The story behind a remarkable art piece

As you round the corner on the second floor of Georgian College, just in the walkway between the theatre building and the new Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning… an eight foot tree twinkles at you, arresting with its beauty and power.

The story behind the tree is even more beautiful and represents truly the power in the strength of individuals who come together.

When Georgian’s $3.3 million Embracing The Future fundraising campaign began, it was to build the new technology centre, a remarkable fitness and gymnasium, an alumni hall and associated high-tech classrooms capable of holding Georgian¹s classes as well as the expanded numbers of Laurentian university classes.

It was logical as the Foundation office reached out into the community, that it would reach into the Georgian Family as well.

The community responded and as you enter the self-generated heating system of the Learning Centre, the donor wall speaks for the community at large and its collective generosity.

But that’s not what this is about.

This is about a completely Georgian-driven project on the second floor. When the Foundation office approached Georgian faculty, administration and support staff, they expected to raise $50,000. Georgian folks were offered giving opportunities of $100, $250 and $500 amounts and they responded with resilience, bringing in over $156,000 for the campaign.

Between January and September 2003, team leaders for each staff section headed out… Vern Telford for faculty; Hank Thibideau for administration, and Denise Near for support staff… they headed out to outdo each other. Fundraising competitions, emails challenging one group to out perform another, friendly banter all brought the Georgian Family campaign into high gear and high dollars.

What lies behind this is a remarkable set of talents that then matched the college family’s generosity in building a recognition art piece that will anchor the second-floor hallway long after everyone has retired.

Acting Foundation Director Cathy Leslie is generous in her praise of metalsmith Andrea Wenckebach. A Jewellery and Metals graduate in 2001, Andrea joined the Georgian faculty that year and was approached to come up with a recognition concept for those Georgian employees who were giving so generously.

Bouncing ideas with her college-based mentors, Andrea worked with colleague Greg Merrall, Jewellery & Metals Coordinator, to develop a concept.

A tree. A huge tree. With three dimensional trunk of real wood. And leaves. Leaves identical to the whimsical leaf in the Georgian logo. Andrea painstakingly developed the leaf, an overlay on the top half of the leaf in gold, silver or bronze, and a curling line along which the donor¹s name is written.

It was all cut out and etched up at MC Lazerwerks and the assembly was an enormous job. Huge pieces of 3/4 inch plywood were sculpted and painted to match the wall. They were attached three-dimensionally and then each leaf is bolted in to place.

The effect is stunning. With movement, the leaves actually change colour and seem to wave in the breeze.

This monument to generosity is so simple to look at that on first glance it seems simple to make. A closer look and one can see why from concept to unveiling was a one-year process. One year. Andrea began the project January 03 and it was unveiled January 04.

Six hundred hours and $4000 of material later (Andrea donated her time as did all the other contributors to the project) this elegant recognition piece was in place. Many hours preceded this for research and design. There were 279 donors, all recognized with 139 gold leaves, 56 silver leaves and 82 bronze leaves. Each leaf was individually laser cut, then etched with the donor¹s names, then had its coloured portion attached. Each leaf had a bolt installed on the back.

And little leaves, with a stem and a bud were sculpted into gold, silver and bronze lapel pins for each donor… carrying the theme to its fullest.

Andrea spent hours erecting the piece, with the careful help of her colleagues. Bolting in leaves, balancing colour, balancing numbers, some leaves pointing east, and some west… the planning that went into this becomes clear as you stand in front of the tree itself.

Cathy Leslie says it’s gooseflesh material when you look at this creation and think that it involved artists within the college all giving their talent to recognize generosity within the college.

But it’s far more than that. It’s a symbol of the excellence that Georgian holds within itself. The remarkable creativity that is centred in the design and visual arts school was sure embraced with this project. A structure like this would have been impossible to buy on the open market, impossible without the generosity within.

Andrea Wenckebach, artist, metalsmith, and now, mom. On maternity leave this year, Andrea comes to Georgian to teach a jewellery design class and a couple of history classes, but most of her attention is focussed on four-month-old Benjamin. She’s modest in diverting praise for the project to the many minds that helped along the way… artist Don Stuart, professor emeritus, Bernice Vasey, woodshop technician and an artist in her own right, and coordinator Merrall.

Thanks, Andrea.