On this day in 1842, the poet Sidney Lanier was born. Lanier was born in Macon, Georgia, and in addition to being a poet, he was an attorney, a teacher, and a musician.
The LEAP Ambassadors visited his home in 2016….
…where they learned more about his life, career, and poetry.
But this was not all new to them, because Huntsville has one of the few replicas of “Thorwaldsen’s Christ” in its “Oakwood Cemetery.” This replica, commissioned and paid for by the Powell Family, includes a verse from Lanier’s “Into the Woods My Master Went.”
The LEAP Ambassadors visit this sculpture every “heART of Huntsville,” and we also commissioned Mark Burns to photograph the sculpture.
In the process of learning more about their local community, LEAP Ambassadors also have the opportunity to discuss their events with local media. On their first day of school, the students visited with Larry Crippen– the hard-working News Director for KSAM Radio. Crippen provided the students with the opportunity to discuss their recent and upcoming events, which the students did with relish!
Maggie Denena, a LEAP Center Student Worker, discussed past event, such as the LEAP Center’s numerous trips this summer as part of a grant project on American Photographer Mark Burns.
Makayla Mason discussed some of her activities–such as her trip to Hawaii–and our upcoming activities, such as our trip to the Texas Tribune Festival in late September. (See upcoming events here!) and our planned visits to Houston for various author-related events.
In addition to informing the community of our goings-on, this experience also provides students the chance to learn media relations and communications. Even the most articulate people can freeze when a recording device is in their face…
…but with Larry’s comfortable professionalism, the students were able to learn the process, inform the public, and gain a new experience all at once!
The LEAP Center Ambassadors finished their summer they way we began it: by making learning fun. In May we headed to Austin for a fun-packed week learning about campaigning. Today, we went on a Phoenix Commotion Tour, seeing about 15 great homes built by Dan Phillips.
Dan Phillips runs Phoenix Commotion, a building company that emphasizes sustainability, recycling, and thinking differently. The result is approximately 20 homes in the Huntsville area that have the Dan Phillips’ look: small in size, unusual building materials, and character.
Taking a step further, the result is also, at least in some areas, transformative.
But that’s only part of the treat. Phillips is also fun to listen to.
He is a former Dance professor, a designer, and a builder. He brings a different eye to the world of home-construction, and his different outlook is apparent from his building philosophy. How many builders do you know, for example, who quote Plato? According to Phillips, you transform things by using the “space between your ears.”
Phillips doesn’t necessarily begin with a grand and detailed design in mind. He begins with a general concept, and then sees where materials and tinkering take him. He uses about 80% recycled materials for his homes, and he finds objects that can be employed to form organic patterns of the most interesting sort. Want an interesting ceiling? Use photo frames back-to-back-to-back to cover the ceiling.
Want interesting siding? Use corks. Want interesting windows? Use relish plates of various colors.
Unlike “starchitects” who come up with a grand design and minute detail ahead of time, Phillips prefers to let the process guide him somewhat. This process also contradicts, as previously mentioned, the ideas of Plato, who argued that reality suffers next to the abstract. Only in the abstract, argued Plato, can perfection be achieved. Once an idea is executed, imperfections occur. For Plato, art was even worse being two degrees removed from the abstract. Not so for Phillips, who allows patterns and experience help guide ideas, achieving a reality that might not have been thought of out of thin air.
Our tour of Phillips’ homes brought some of those concepts to life. We began at the “Bone Home,” so named for the many bones that constitute the home. If there’s a handle, it’s probably a bone. There’s also the bone furniture , which probably won’t be found in the Sears Home section.
The Bone Home demonstrates Phillips’ talent for making everyday objects into a pattern that is pleasing to the eye and, as Phillips notes, “the human spirit.” He can use corks, bottle caps, glass, stone shards, or just about anything to create an interesting look.
We also visited the art studio, which contained a bone chandelier…
…and learned about the animating spirit of Phillips’ work.
From there, we visited the tree house. This 320 square foot home, built 35 feet above Town Creek, was probably the consensus favorite. This property actually consists of the tree house, a studio, and a “cottage.” Compared to the cottage (280 square feet), the tree house looks giant.
The whole complex has the look of a compound, and the front of the area and the trees surrounding the property pretty well obscure the tree house, the most photogenic of the buildings. But once you enter the gate to the property, you are led on a walkway that takes you to the tree-house which, despite its small size, is actually a two-story structure.
In the middle of the bottom floor, you’ll find a window that will purportedly hold 350 pounds, a claim no one was eager to test.
Phillips explained more of his philosophy from the tree-house’s art studio, which is about 1,000 square feet.
Following the tree house, we did a driving tour of Phillips’ homes in Huntsville: the beer can house, the storybook house, the courtyard house, and others, before touring one more home interior. Although this home has no catchy name as far as we know, it had a really cool door so, clever group that we are, will call it the “cool-door home.” The door is actually made from printing equipment that Phillips obtained from SHSU.
The tour was a great way to learn more about the community, and meet community leaders. In addition to us students, Dr. Keri Rogers and her husband, Chuck Mize; Dr. Bill Hyman and Carol Hyman; Brenda McNeely, Toni Abshire, Jean Loveall, Stephanie Fors were all on hand.
It was a great way to close out the summer and transition to the fall, gearing us up for using that “space between our ears.”
It was the first day of summer, and it was a fun one. Making the most of the City of Huntsville’s “Outdoor Explorer Program,” the LEAP Center students ventured to the Huntsville State Park, for a day of hiking, biking, kayaking, and grilling.
Most of us had never been to the State Park, and most of had never had any meaningful experience kayaking. So that made it all the more fun when we started the day off with kayak training–and then launching into the water!
Bella surprised everyone with her quick launch and her mastery of kayaking. She also had a go-pro camera, which she used to record almost everything…
Following Bella’s lead, others soon got into the act.
Soon, we were scurrying all over the lake, enjoying the sun, relaxation, and exercise.
Austin, the most athletic of us, looked like a natural kayaker…
The “look,” however, was short lived. Following a loss of balance, Austin found himself tasting some lake water…
…and while he may have lost his balance, he didn’t lose his shades….
…getting back on, however, was another matter. This maneuver requires help, strength, and balance.
…While this particular attempt was not successful…
..He eventually regained his form and was able to enjoy the rest of the day.
Following a bit more exploration of the lake, we called it a morning–at least as far as kayaking was concerned.
But that didn’t mean the day was over. The bulk of us went for a three-mile hike, while Constance, Megan, and Stephanie sneaked back to the lake for more kayaking.
We hiked the north-west side of the lake. It was a particularly pretty trail.
The trails in the State Park are well marked, clear, and roomy. It’s great for those who enjoy nature, birding (250 species of bird in the park), and hiking. In fact, there are 129 miles of hiking trails.
At the northernmost end of the lake, it gets very marshy, and you actually walk across a wooden platform for about 70 yards.
Afterward, we headed back to “camp,” and we picnicked on hot dogs, chips, cole slaw, and s’mores.
At the end of the day, we headed our separate ways, returning to our homes to prepare for Father’s Day.
The LEAP Center students thank the City of Huntsville and, particularly, Natalie Reid, for the Outdoor Explorer program and the fun the program brings to the community!