School welcomes new sculpture


The children think the hulking metal structure is cool, even if they aren't sure what it's supposed to be.

A 21-foot-high artwork unveiled in front of Thunder Hill Elementary School in Columbia has received rave reviews from schoolchildren, staff and parents. The school is the first in Howard County to receive such a major piece, and many say it is indicative of Thunder Hill's commitment to the arts.

"In Howard County, you see such a focus on science and math, and I really love that the focus here is on art and creativity," said Suzanne Wilson, whose two sons attend Thunder Hill. "I think the sculpture is great."

Thunder Hill has long been identified as a hub of creativity, and that reputation has been cemented by its various arts programs. "Arts on the Hill" invites children, parents and community members to submit pieces for display in the school's gallery and also features a well-produced talent show.

The school's artist-in-residence program annually pairs fifth-graders with a local artist to create a project. The fruits of that program can be seen around the school: A mural depicting settlers of America's western expansion fills a hallway and colorful ceramic tiles designed by the children gleam on the facade of the building.

Thomas Bruner, Thunder Hill's principal, said the programs have evolved over the years because of the support of parents and residents.

"It's not like we are a magnet school for the arts or anything," Bruner said. "We just have some very talented students here at the school, and there is a great deal of talent out there in the community."

That talent was on display at the unveiling of the sculpture. Students sang, played instruments, danced and recited original poems to celebrate the piece, titled "When the Wind Comes."

The sculpture -- a gigantic aluminum, steel and bronze piece with wind chimes of various sizes dangling from it -- was created by renowned Baltimore-based sculptor Rodney Carroll. Schoolchildren praised the work even though some of them shyly admitted they weren't sure what -- if anything -- it was supposed to resemble.

"I still like it, though," said Nicole Bylsma, an 11-year-old fifth grader. "I like the noise that the chimes make, and I like the color."

Others bellowed an enthusiastic "Yeah!" when the ribbon was cut to unveil the sculpture, and the artist answered several questions about the piece, including, "Why didn't you paint it purple?"

Art is truly in the eye of the beholder and Carroll said he was thrilled with the reception his creation has received.

"I thought it might work out well, but this is fabulous," said Carroll, who also has designed pieces for Pier 6 in Baltimore, the Washington, D.C., Convention Center and the NASA Space Telescope Institute at the Johns Hopkins University.

When asked what his vision was for the artwork, Carroll said, "To show the students the interconnectedness -- the way wind is in music, light is in art and math is in science."

The sculpture was made possible by a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts offered in 1998. Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council, said her organization awarded the grant to the school after it submitted a grant proposal.

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