Battle Creek

Battle Creek to celebrate its links to Japan with public sculptures that resemble origami

A new twist on origami is being celebrated in Battle Creek with the installation in October of metal sculptures designed to replicate the ancient Japanese art of paper folding.

The sculptures being created now by eight local artists will be displayed in public spaces throughout the city. Like the painted cows that graced the streets of Chicago 20 years ago and the "Hail Kalamazoo" project featuring taxicabs that were displayed in downtown Kalamazoo in 2004 community art projects feature elements unique to each city. For Battle Creek, the origami sculptures represent an important part of the city’s history with Japan and its sister city, Takasaki.

That relationship began in 1984 as a student exchange program. Then the Japanese influence in Battle Creek grew to include the presence of major Japanese companies, including automotive suppliers Denso and TRMI at the Fort Custer Industrial Park, a Japanese Saturday school, and more than 500 Japanese nationals who take temporary job assignments with employers based at Fort Custer.

Battle Creek now has the fifth largest Japanese population of cities in Michigan, according to a 2017 Japanese Direct Investment Survey: Summary of Michigan Results prepared by the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, a survey of Japanese-owned facilities and Japanese nationals in Michigan.

“There’s so much talent in the Battle Creek area and our sister city is Takasaki, Japan, we thought how appropriate for it to be focused on origami,” Jacquie McLean, Marketing and Promotion Specialist with the City of Battle Creek’s Small Business Development Organization, says of the sculpture exhibit. 

The sculptures will be on display for one year and during that time the public will have an opportunity to vote for their favorite sculpture. The most popular sculpture will be purchased by the Small Business Development Organization and remain in downtown Battle Creek indefinitely.

The artists, four of whom are working in teams of two, were given a $950 stipend to cover costs including transportation, insurance, and installation and removal of their sculptures. The exhibit is being funded through a $9,500 grant from the Battle Creek Community Foundation and $4,000 from the Small Business Development Organization, McLean says. She also says the city will make an in-kind contribution for the maintenance of the sculptures while they are on display.

“We are in the process of deciding on locations,” Mclean says. “We are meeting with each artist individually to talk about the placement and structure. There are different ways we can secure each sculpture, but we need to know what size concrete forms we need to pour to bolt them to. Some of the artists already had specific locations in mind for where they want to see their sculptures.”

Ideally, Mclean says the Small Business Development Organization would like to have the sculptures in the downtown’s State Street Common District, which was established during the pandemic to give people an opportunity to socialize outdoors in a large space while enjoying food and drinks from local restaurants and bars. 

“This will enable us to offer a walking tour of the sculpture exhibit in a centralized location,” she says.

In addition to the exhibit itself, McLean says a brochure is being developed that will include pictures of the sculptures and a map that will guide people to each of the installations. She says her team also is discussing the possibility of display cases throughout the downtown area. A celebration is being scheduled for late October to kick off the first-of-its-kind exhibit.

The artists and their sculptures

Gary Barton and Wayne Edmonds, both from Battle Creek, have known each other for 20 years. Barton is a Marketing Manager at Western Michigan University, and Edmonds is a retired mechanic.

Their entry is called “Paper Family” with the Japanese translation being “Kami no Kazoku”, Barton says. The statue will be 3-feet by 5-feet and occupy an 8-foot-wide space and will feature origami lily pads and frogs with a single lily hanging off of the base.

“In my mid-40s I had a daughter named Lily and my mother-in-law who is Wayne’s girlfriend was helping me to take care of her,” Barton says. “I instantly thought of origami lilies and paper frogs and my relationship with my community and people in the city.”

The metal the duo is working with will include some type of paint or finish.

Wayne Edmonds and Gary BartonWhile Barton has been involved in various artistic mediums for many years and has developed a love for Japanese arts and culture and clothing, Edmonds says, “I’m not an artist per se, but I am interested in art and always like to support opportunities that highlight what's downtown or in different places around the area.”

Barton says when he heard about the call for artists and the exhibit, he “jumped on it instantly.”

“I hear a lot of times that people have a specific interest and they’re always saying that there’s not enough to do in Battle Creek, but if you’re not looking for it, you’re never going to find it. I hope this origami exhibit will highlight the other art there is to see in Battle Creek.”

Kyle Burnett, owner of RB Christian Ironworks in Battle Creek, will be creating a six-foot teaspoon that will be located outside of the entrance to the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau and a duck inspired by the ducks that frequent Irving Park. Burnett says the duck will measure 6 feet in length from beak to tail and will be proportionally wide and tall. He does not yet know where the duck will be displayed.

The creation of the spoon and duck will follow the lines that origami is known for.

In addition to his local sculptures, he also has a sculpture on display outside of the Grand Rapids Public Museum as part of ArtPrize. That sculpture is titled “Terminal” and is designed to represent how a loved one feels when someone is taken by a terminal illness, Burnett says. He lost his mother to cancer when he was 15-years-old and says the location of the piece is fitting because he and his mother used to visit that museum together. The 9-foot-tall sculpture depicts a woman falling backward as if she’s almost dying. A scrap metal lion is coming out of her torso. “It takes the life and rips apart the family in grief,” he says.

Burnett says being involved in the art world brings a sense of family to other artists as if you are part of something bigger than yourself.

He says when artists like him are able to connect with a local audience, “it hits a different aspect of connection, not only does it bring local artists together but it brings people from all walks of life together. It's a conversation starter to someone who you may not have talked to in an ordinary situation,” he says. “Being the creator only enhances this experience because you have more of a story with the piece that you can share with them. I love being part of Battle Creek and want to play my part in beautifying it. I hope the origami exhibit is only the start of many opportunities for sculptures to fill the streets of our amazing city.”

Mary Dey makes her home in Bellevue and grew up in Battle Creek. Her sculpture will feature Pegasus-inspired wings. Pegasus is a winged horse based in Greek mythology.

Mary Dey“I had a really hard time with COVID,” Dey says of the time when the pandemic had everyone in lockdown. “I’m a 19-year cancer survivor and I went through such a battle with that. It was horrendous and I don’t wish it on anyone. I came out the other side and I have renewed hope for my life and that’s my word hope and that’s what I live by. You have to have hope through all of this. As a sculptor, not a professional sculptor, I’ve done a few works that have sold and so when this all started, I thought I would love to make a sculpture that portrays what I’m feeling and what humanity feels as we come out of it. Those that do make it have a renewed strength and commitment to their fellow man.”

Her sculpture is expected to be between 7- and 8-feet-tall and 3-feet- wide. She says creating the piece will stretch her as an artist.

“I love curves and round shapes, so these straight lines and rigidity are really constraining for me. The sculpture has to have straight lines in it,” Dey says.

Those straight lines will convey a powerful message of courage, freedom, power, and endurance, the proper visual to convey in a time of uncertainty caused by a pandemic, she says.

“I hope that you would drive past it and think, ‘Wow, look at the power in that. We have strength, power, and resilience’ and I hope people will take that home and use it in their lives. I think Battle Creek has always had this misnomer that we’re a blue-collar worker town and I beg to differ because I think people who live here are aware of beauty just much as the people in neighboring communities, they just don’t show it. There’s so much talent in this city and it adds so much to each life.”

Elisha Hodge, owner of Plumeria Botanical Boutique in Urbandale, is calling her sculpture entry “Earth and Sky”. Her creation, a lotus flower that morphs into a butterfly, will be 5-feet-tall and sit on a 3.5-foot-base.

“Naturally, I’m just drawn to flowers and nature,” she says. “The lotus flower comes from such muddy roots and then it becomes the most beautiful flower. I wanted to convey what it means to have such beauty bloom out of a space that’s not what we would consider beautiful.”

Elisha HodgeShe will be working with galvanized metal that will be painted to give it a patina finish. Although she is more used to working with scissors to create the customized floral arrangements that she has become known for, she is learning how to use tools to bend the metal in her sculpture.

The typically modest Hodge, says she is “beyond honored” to be among the participants in the exhibit. What she is able to create with her flowers has enabled her to sustain and grow a thriving business and be creative up to a certain point.

“The idea that Battle Creek has something like this available when I’m ready to grow artistically is great. Now, I’m ready to go back to my individual art and run my business,” Hodge says. “I support this exhibit as an artist and as a Battle Creek resident. There’s so much untapped talent in our town. I love that the city is taking this on, but also keeping the artists local and showcasing the gems we have here.”

Brian Rowden and Vicki VanAmeyden

Husband and wife, Brian Rowden and Vicki VanAmeyden collaborate on outdoor sculpture as well as day-to-day life. Both natives of Battle Creek, Brian retired from Local 333 Plumbers & Pipefitters. Vicki is a visual artist whose concentration is printmaking. Their recycled works are created with scrap or "found" metals and teamwork. 

They are calling their sculpture “First Fold.” It will be constructed out of welded metal and comprised of three open-form squares. One square is flat; one folds on the diagonal; and one, folds edge to edge. The two folded squares attach to the unfolded square. There is surface treatment on each square.
“'First Fold’ represents the square shape, and the first fold option when creating paper origami—mountain and valley,” the couple says in their written artist statement. “It suggests two ways of doing things that combine with a core structure to suggest new possibilities and relationships. The simplicity of this sculptural form honors both Eastern aesthetics and Western ideas associated with Minimalism.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.