by Geoff Fox
For the next 10 years, anytime someone travels the Pennsylvania Turnpike stops to rest at the Sideling Hill Travel Plaza east of Breezewood, they’ll see a large metal Pennsylvania and keystone filled with pictures from around Fulton County. The artwork, which measures 17 feet long and 7.5 feet high, was created by students at Southern Fulton High School and Fulton County Area Vocational Technical School.
On Friday, May 17, students unveiled their work at the Sideling Hill Travel Plaza.
Southern Fulton students and teachers involved with the project, Mark Compton, the CEO of Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, and U.S. Senator Judy Ward all were at the unveiling.
In the fall of 2017, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) contacted Southern Fulton High School Art Teacher Carolyn Mottern.
Knowing Sideling Hill was in Fulton County, the art agency reached out to Old Forbes High School, Central Fulton High School, as well as Southern Fulton High School about the project.
“We jumped on it because I thought it was a wonderful opportunity,” Mottern said.
She said the initial idea was to make something with a mosaic, ceramic, “something like that.”
The project is part of the Art Sparks, which brings local, student-created art to the service plazas along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Mottern said the travel plazas on the ends of the turnpike near Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were the first to have these projects installed. In all, seven of the 17 travel plazas have Art Sparks projects on display.
Sideling Hill is the only plaza where drivers traveling both east and west have access.
Last summer, Mottern was told the PCA was ready for Southern Fulton to do their project for the travel plaza.
Mottern told them the school had photography, 2D art, 3D art, and could do “just about anything.”
Dorie Heyer, a photographer working on her graduate project and working as a professional photographer for the U.S. Navy, came to Southern Fulton in the fall. She met with and worked with photography students to get them acclimated to what they’d be doing.
In November and December, the students started concentrating on the project and “hit the ground running” in January, Mottern said.
“It came together very fast,” she said.
The 12 photography students were asked to take 100 photos each of various things such as landscapes.
Jeffrey Rohm, who worked on the project, said students went out into Fulton County taking pictures. They took 10 pictures in 10 categories. That is where the travel plaza project really started.
“As we started turning in all those pictures, we were assigned to collect more pictures,” Rohm said.
The majority of those pictures created the “massive artwork that is up on the wall now,” he added.
Rohm said the project was a mixture of classroom work and free time. Pictures were taken on the students’ own time, but editing was done in class.
Rohm said he’d been working on the project for four or five months.
In February, all students involved were taken to the travel plaza so they’d know what they were dealing with, Mottern said.
Each group consisted of eight students with at least one student from photography, welding, drawing and painting, advanced art, and sculpture classes.
While a lot of the kids didn’t know each other, they talked about the structure and what was going to look the best.
As they were looking around the travel plaza, ideas for hanging things from the ceiling or a sculpture came to mind.
“When we saw the wall that was empty, the kids all gravitated toward the wall,” Mottern said.
Students had to account for the weight of the piece, which would hang.
The idea for having quilts was also tossed around since there are barn quilts over the Fulton County. That brought the thought of patchwork and scrapbooking to the forefront.
“We were comfortable doing the welding as the exterior framework,” Mottern said.
Logan Shreve was one of the students who worked on welding.
Shreve said they decided on the shape of Pennsylvania and keystone because the project had to represent the state.
He helped create and design the keystone part of the piece.
“So we had to find out all the angles of the shape – the top of the keystone, the edges of PA – and then cut the metal at that and then finally put it together and weld it,” Shreve said.
Bruce Shipley, who is the welding teacher, said the welding was very challenging.
Armed with a picture of the space they were going to fill, students built the frame on the floor to scale with painters tape. They worked forward from there.
“Every piece was handcrafted and the students found it very challenging,” he said.
In all, Shreve said it took three weeks of class work.
Students worked in eight groups with seven of them coming up with the same idea – forming the state of Pennsylvania and the keystone.
They also wanted to show the turnpike somehow in the piece. They ended up using Polaroid pictures of the progress of the piece to map out the length of the turnpike.
The east and west side of Pennsylvania in the piece is made up of student photographs. The keystone part is made up of historical images, used with permission, from The Pennsylvania Turnpike Moments in Motion book.
After completion, the piece was loaded onto a trailer and taken to the travel plaza by Mottern, Heyer, and Shipley. The finished project was installed on Thursday, May 9.
There were around 100 students total, or one third of the student body, who contributed to the piece.
To have the piece in a travel plaza accessed and seen by over 750,000 people a year is “everything,” Mottern said.
“To have a piece of work from students put in a public environment that is going to be seen that much, that’s almost unheard of,” she said. “It’s a great honor for them and I feel really proud of them.”
She said the students will be able to see the piece over the course of the next 10 years.
“This truly a once in a lifetime thing for them,” Mottern said.
Mottern said it helped put Southern Fulton High School on the map, as the county is small and rural.
Rohm said having the artwork piece on display at the travel plaza for the next 10 years has a big impact on him.
“It shows how a little school and little community can come together and make something big that can really affect people from all over the country and world since Pennsylvania has so much commerce yearly,” he said.
Schreve said the project shows the school represents the community as a whole and to him it’s pretty cool to have something he worked on be on display for 10 years.
“I think it turned out great,” he said.
Shipley said it’s amazing to have the piece on display at the travel plaza because this is his first year teaching. This time last year, he said, he was 700 feet underground doing welding repairs.
“To have that image on the wall for so long, or even any time actually, is very rewarding to myself to see the students take so such pride in what they’re doing,” he said.
For the school, Shipley said, “it’s a great accomplishment” where the schools can show off their talents like never before and show people what they’re capable of.
“What an amazing opportunity to be involved with such a project for everyone to see and everyone to work together – from the welding to the art class,” he said.
The Sideling Hill Travel Plaza is accessible to the people not using the Pennsylvania Turnpike, so everyone can see the work of the Southern Fulton Students, as well as get a bite to eat while there.
The plaza can be reached on back roads toward Breezewood. Use Forbes Road and park in the employee parking area.
The address is 3744 North Hess Road, Waterfall, Pa.