Mount Vernon Ohio, approximately 50 miles north east of Columbus, was once a thriving center of manufacturing, including the Pittsburgh Plate Glass plant, a commercially successful factory that opened in 1907 and occupied 70 acres in the center of town. These buildings were constructed during an era when industrial wastes were not recognized as hazardous and families lived in the adjacent “mill villages”. In spite of these factors, the community thrived and PPG was very much a part of that.
The PPG plant eventually closed in 1976, subsequently passing through numerous ownerships and functioning in various capacities, mostly warehouse and other static businesses. In 2012, the current owners were unable to install the required sprinkler systems and within a year, the city assumed ownership and transferred it to the newly formed non-profit Foundation Park Conservancy. The goal was to raze most of the factory to create a public park and on July 4, 2015, the Ariel Foundation Park was presented to the community.
Ted Schnormeier was a major community leader in the acquisition of the properties and the vision of a public park. His work brought him, his wife Ann and their two children to Knox County Ohio in 1966. Since that time, they have developed their property into a large “garden” and are influential within the community. Ted served as chair of the foundation board and shepherded the process of converting an aging, abandoned industrial site into a beautiful landscape that also honored the heritage of glass manufacturing.
The plant included multiple, well constructed solid old buildings that had to be demolished, with much of the steel, brick and concrete recycled. One of the buildings had been constructed using iron trusses from the 1893 World’s Fair at Chicago. Some of these trusses along with beams, old bricks, metal and chunks of glass know as “cullet”, have become the material for significant sculptures throughout the park. A few of the buildings remain, serving as events facilities and a visitor center. For visual interest, a number of brick facades and towers have been left standing, including a stair case to the top of an old smoke stack that provides a panoramic view of the park and the surrounding area. Significantly, the board establish a trust fund to maintain the park for the enjoyment of future generations.
My teacher and mentor, Jane Dunnewold, is originally from Mount Vernon and suggested I contact Ted Schnormeier, who graciously agreed to give me an extensive tour of his gardens and of the park. The left section of the piece suggests the density and dirt of a major industrial area, including living on the edge of the factory, the old concept of mill village. On the right, I am attempting to capture the openness, the green and blue of the park, its rolling hills and its link to the past. Originally I thought of replicating some of the sculptures and other features but as that design began to develop, it was too busy. With that, I stripped back to simple color and a single building to replicate the park’s sense of peace and cleanliness.