Art from the heart

Oak Trace dedicates courtyard to memory of student Spencer Lancaster

 

Oak Trace Elementary School students work on a school-wide art project every year, but this year’s assignment was more personal. The butterfly mosaic and garden in the school’s courtyard was recently dedicated to Spencer Lancaster, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008 and passed away Aug. 28, 2011 at the age of 8. Lancaster was a student at the school from kindergarten to third grade.

“Oak Trace opened 12 years ago. I wanted there to be a very special place (on the school grounds), but I never found it,” Oak Trace Principal Robin Lynch said during the dedication with her students and Spencer’s family members in attendance. “He was a dear friend and someone very, very special. This is a way for us to remember him always … I hope this does your son justice. I wanted to find the perfect place for him, and I think I did.”

Lynch said students knew their artwork had a purpose – to represent Spencer.

“He just exemplified courage. Even when he was extremely ill and in pain, he just wanted to be at school every day and be with his friends,” she said. “No matter the hardships or pain, he had that joy for life and courage. I think he taught a lot of people a lot of important lessons.”

Spencer’s mother, Jill Lancaster, said that he was in hospice care during the first day of school this year, but his third grade classroom still had a desk with his name on it.

“His teacher told me he’d always be a part of the class,” she said. “The teachers and Robin have been so supportive. They were there the day he died.”

Jill explained that the butterfly came to be Spencer’s symbol – a beautiful creature that grew and changed from one life cycle to another. On Thanksgiving Eve 2010, Spencer was asked to paint what made him happy.

“He loved art,” said Jill. “It was the last thing he could do independently.”

Spencer painted a red and blue polka dot butterfly. When asked by his parents why he picked a butterfly, he told them, “They’re just fun and happy.”

“That was just his thing – he watched and loved butterflies,” Jill said.

In addition to the Oak Trace students, the Lancasters created three butterflies that were incorporated into the mosaic. Jill said that one of the pieces was colored identically to the Spencer’s painting.

“It makes a place for him to always be here,” she said. “We didn’t think that his kindergarten graduation would be his only graduation.”

“It’s awesome. A lot of people we don’t know put a lot of work into it,” added Spencer’s father, Shawn. “Hopefully it will be here for years to come.”

Shannon Simmermon, the art teacher at Monon Trail Elementary, was the artist in residence and organizer of the butterfly mosaic. Simmermon previously taught at Oak Trace in 2008 when she covered art classes while the regular teacher was on medical leave – Spencer was a kindergartener at that time.

Simmermon said the students worked together on the mosaic project in the multi-purpose room, sometimes 100 at a time. She explained that instead of each student having one piece they worked on from start to finish, students worked collectively on the project – creating the butterflies, adding texture and coloring the pieces.

“The empathy they displayed was evident,” she said. “I heard many students say, ‘This is for Spencer.’ There was an extreme amount of pride in creating their work. They knew why they were coming together to work. It’s art from the heart.”

As she stood staring at the finished product, which included flowers and butterfly mosaics on the brick walls and butterflies hanging from the lone tree in the courtyard, Simmermon was extremely proud of the work and memorial the students created.

“It’s a great space to come out and enjoy the nature and weather,” she said.

“It’s a way for us to remember him always as a member of our school. It turned out exactly how I wanted it to,” added Lynch. “It’s a creative piece of art. I think it is just beautiful!”