Ypsi High students to honor the contributions of local women throughout history in new mural

As you may have noticed, a number of local high school students have been working on a new mural in downtown Ypsilanti these past few weeks. What follows is a brief conversation with their Ypsi High art teacher Lynne Settles about the project, how it came about, and the positive effect it’s having on her students.

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MARK: Since was last spoke, you’ve started work on yet another mural with your students. What can you tell us about this one?

LYNNE: This time the students wanted to create a mural on the topic of African American women in Ypsilanti.

MARK: How did you decide which women to include?

LYNNE: Local historian Matt Siegfried came to our class and gave a presentation on several historical women who called Ypsilanti home. Matt and the students then chose which women that they wanted to include, being careful to select individuals that represented different things… like voting rights, healthcare, education and sports.

MARK: And this one is on the side of a downtown building owned by the parents of one of your students, correct?

LYNNE: Yes, this mural is going up outside Finesse Salon, which is owned by Paris Green’s parents… Paris, as you might recall, is the young man who accompanied me on your radio show a few months ago… It’s a great location for us, right at the corner of Ballard and Congress… It’s very visible.

MARK: What did you learn from the first mural you did here in Ypsilanti, the one of HP Jacobs? And, given your experiences last time, are you doing anything differently this time?

LYNNE: It’s not so much something that we learned, but the students decided that, this time, they wanted it to look more realistic, and they wanted to incorporate more detail.

MARK: And you’re still collaborating with Doug Jones (artist), Matt Siegfried (historian) and Laura Bien (videographer)?

LYNNE: Yes, we all worked so well with each other last time, and with the students, we didn’t want to change anything.

MARK: And how many students are participating this time?

LYNNE: About 20 students have come out to paint, but not all on the same day. They come when they can. And we probably have a core group of about 10 that come more than the others, because they either drive or live within walking distance.

MARK: While the outline went up a little while ago, I suspect it will be some time before the entire piece is completed. When should we expect to see the whole thing done?

LYNNE: We will be working every weekend in May and some weekdays as needed to have it done by June 1st. Many of the students working on the mural are seniors, so we want it done before they graduate. Plus it has to be completed by June 3rd, as the unveiling will be part of Ypsilanti’s First Fridays festivities.

MARK: Are your students engaged in a different way this time? I’m curious to know if they’re taking on more leadership, for instance, having now done this once before.

LYNNE: They are definitely taking on more of a leadership role. They decided on the theme, asked more questions, etc. They started organizing for this back in January. At our community fundraiser this past April, they planned and led the program. They designed and printed the t-shirts that we’re selling to raise funds. And they’ll lead the unveiling on June 3rd too. [The unveiling will happen at 6:00 PM.] One of the girls, Asia Allen King, has written a poem asking the question, “Have We Forgotten Our Women?” And one of the boys will answer the question in a rap song.

MARK: It’s got to be a great feeling as a teacher to find a way to get your students to open up, realize their potential, and, perhaps for the first time ever, feel like a part of their community.

LYNNE: Yes, that’s the best part about the whole thing… It’s all about the children and what all of this has done for them, how it’s built up their confidence.

MARK: You received a grant from the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation to help make this happen. What will you be using your $1,000 grant for?

LYNNE: All the funds we received from the Awesome Foundation will go toward the purchase of supplies, materials, and food for the students doing the painting.

MARK: And you also just concluded a successful Patronicty campaign, right?

LYNNE: Yes, we just raised $5,136 through Patroinicty, surpassing our goal of $5,000. And it’s a matching grant, which means that Pure Michigan, MEDC and MSHDA will match our $5,000. These funds will go toward paint, paint brushes, rollers, aprons, gloves, and protective equipment. It will also help with documentation, consultation and the installation of signage at both mural sites. And any extra money will be put aside for our next mural in the fall.

MARK: I’m happy to hear that you’ll be incorporating signage at the mural sites. While the pieces themselves are great, I love the idea that people who just happen to stumble upon them will be able to know who the people are that they’re looking at, and how these pieces were painted by local high school students.

LYNNE: Yes, this project not only touches the lives of the students in the class, but it reaches back to the past to preserve it for future generations.

MARK: You mentioned a third mural. Are there already plans underway?

LYNNE: The third and last one in this project series will be on the Underground Railroad. We know where we would like to paint it, but the site has not yet been confirmed.

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[note: Ive requested an interview with Matt Siegfried about the women who are depicted. My hope is that this will happen soon. In the meantime, however, I received the following from Douglas Jones, the artist working with the students, who wanted to let us know that it’s not African American women who are depicted… “It also honors the history of remarkable caucasian women from Ypsilanti, including Dr. McAndrews. Dr. McAndrews was an immigrant from Scotland. She originally settled in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. McAndrews received social scrutiny for being a woman doctor, rather than a nurse, and for harboring runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. Dr. McAndrews set up a medical clinic, in Ypsilanti, to specifically care for African-Americans and impoverished European-Americans. She saved countless Ypsilanti women by offering women’s health, including prenatal care, as the State of Michigan’s first woman medical doctor. There are several others, but I’ll mention this ‘white lady’ here. Thank you, Mark!”]

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8 Comments

  1. 734
    Posted May 27, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I hope that police officer isn’t telling them to put down their paintbrushes and back away from the building.

  2. maryd
    Posted May 27, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Lynne Settles has been great for Ypsilanti Community schools and our community. I love how she has worked with Matt Siegfried to include this history content for her students through art. After attending one of Matt’s South Adams tours I was left with such strong feelings that our young students at the high school needed to know about this history. And they are doing just that. It is another great success story of Ypsilanti. Thanks to Lynne, Matt and Laura and the students creating this art for us to enjoy.

  3. Megan Moore
    Posted May 27, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I love that they are doing this on my street. Public art makes me so happy

  4. Posted May 27, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    It is an incredible experience to work with the students and Mrs. Settles at YCS and EMU historian, Dr. Siegfried, on this mural. We began setting up this curriculum this past fall and our work continues to surface within these murals. Thanks, Mark, for sharing parts of our story!

  5. Lynne
    Posted May 27, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I really love this project for a lot of reasons. It is an absolutely beautiful mural that really adds to our town. Also, I cant imagine a better way to learn history than through art. I’ll bet those kids will have that sense of history with them for some time.

  6. EOS in exile
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    Too bad the mural is done using unpaid child labor. Unbelievable. Even worse than that Mexican grocery.

    Hypocrites.

  7. Cheryl Farmer
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Great interview about a wonderful project!

  8. EOS
    Posted May 29, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Don’t be silly. They’ve only collected $11,000 for the paint and brushes. There’s no money to pay the laborers. Consultants don’t come cheap.

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  1. […] few days ago I posted an interview here with Ypsi High art teacher Lynne Settles about a new mural on the subject of local women’s history that she and her students had been working on in downtown Ypsilanti. Well, as the formal unveiling […]

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