a tribute to a girl named Emily

Like a bird gliding on the breeze, a multicolored sculpture seems to hover over the center of the newly created Franklin Art Garden.

The form inspires a sense of peace and tranquility. Titled “Emily,” the sculpture represents the memory of a young girl and the spirit of goodwill that she inspired even as she died from a terrible disease.

“It’s a nice tribute,” artist Gordon Strain said. “The story won’t be there for a lot of people, but I’ll always know who it was made for.”

Strain’s sculpture is one of four pieces installed in the art garden, which debuts to the public Saturday. His piece is a large-scale version of an origami crane, modeled after a smaller paper figure but built out of wood, steel, fiberglass and fabric.

“I thought it would be interesting to see what origami would look like big,” Strain said. “There is something uniquely delicate about it. Origami is so fragile as little pieces of paper, so seeing it on a larger scale would get the audience to consider what they’re looking at.”

The art garden is a project of Meg Jones and Richard Goss, owners of Richard’s Kitchen and Richard’s Brick Oven Pizza. Using a parcel of land behind their restaurant, the pair designed a tranquil green space that showcases the work of local artists as well as natural Indiana beauty.

They had seen similar concepts in cities they had traveled to. Such a park would be unique to the area.

“Richard and I are both pretty artistic, and we love art. It’s nice to be able to share what you love with other people, and hopefully they’ll enjoy it as well,” Jones said. “We don’t have anything like it in Franklin.”

Inspired by classmate

Jones approached Strain to submit an idea for the proposed art garden. Though he came up with three ideas, the crane concept was one he liked the best.The sculpture is named after a classmate whom Strain knew in elementary school. Emily had leukemia, and one year their school brought in a storyteller to relate the legend of 1,000 cranes.Japanese tradition said that anyone who had the patience to fold 1,000 origami cranes would receive good luck and good health. In the aftermath of the atomic bomb detonation in Hiroshima, a girl named Sadako Sasaki developed cancer from radiation exposure.

She was inspired by the origami legend, and her mission to fold the thousand paper cranes while praying for world peace captured the attention of the world in the mid-1950s.

In a similar vein, Strain’s class worked to fold 1,000 cranes to help their classmate Emily. She ended up dying from leukemia, but the bond that was formed by the class was a testament to her spirit, Strain said.

“After making the cranes, I started to really love origami a lot. It’s something that I continued doing all the time,” he said. “When my sister was in the hospital for heart problems, we folded origami together. My daughters and I fold it together. So I wanted to do something with that.”

Other sculpture displayed

The challenge was figuring out how to create the same form as a paper origami crane, but one that was not only larger but could withstand the elements of an outdoor art garden.“I didn’t want to just get a huge square of paper and start folding that up,” Strain said.

He is a professor of theater design at Franklin College and experienced with outdoor sculpture. So he used his past projects and applied it to this. Strain started with a steel skeleton, then wrapped it in wood and fiberglass. Fabric cut to look like features were adhered to the underlying body, giving it a paper look but with more texture, he said.

With the form in place, the next challenge was honoring Emily’s memory in the proper manner. Strain approached Emily’s mother and brother before naming the piece, to gauge their reaction to it.

“They were very much on board with it and gave their blessing for the name,” he said. “Hopefully, they’re coming Saturday to see it.”

Strain’s piece is just part of the overall art garden. In addition to “Emily,” Franklin metalworker Larry Gordon provided three pieces. He built a stylized metal windmill that overlooks the entire property. Two abstract sculptures are designed with an organic, plant-life feel to them.

“I’m a craftsman, and I like to do these fun kinds of things — sculpture and windmills, things like that,” Gordon said.

The hope is to add more art as the garden matures, Jones said.

Development of the garden came together over the course of two years. The Franklin Development Corp. provided $90,000 toward the total $200,000 garden.

Though initially Jones and Goss were required to transfer the art garden to the city’s parks board, the grant stipulations were amended to allow them to keep ownership as long as they opened it to the public.

Work started at the end of 2014 and has been ongoing throughout the spring and summer.

‘Contemplative spot’

In addition to the art, Jones — an experienced landscape designer — plotted a garden of native Indiana plants, flowers and shrubs. The plants chosen will make the garden easy to care for and more drought resistant, Jones said.“I want it to be an educational space horticulturally, too, to do some of these low-maintenance native plants,” she said.Jones also created a labyrinth out of shrubbery. Designed as a walking meditation, its path weaves around in a circuitous way from the outside to the center.

She said labyrinths have been used for thousands of years as a spiritual tool to quiet the mind, invite self-reflection and relieve stress.

“It’s meant to be more of a contemplative spot, where people can sit and enjoy and ponder,” she said.

For those involved, the art garden will be another piece adding to the draw of downtown Franklin. Jones and Goss have planned a day full of activities for Saturday’s unveiling. Tours of the labyrinth will be given by experts, and an art therapy class will be available.

Moving forward, it will be open from dawn to dusk throughout the year, providing a relaxing place to decompress, sit for a few minutes or even host weddings or other events.

Eventually, a concrete stairway will connect it to Province Park and the city’s Greenway Trail.

Most of all, it injects a greater appreciation for the arts into the daily lives of the community, Strain said.

“Public art builds a better community,” Strain said. “It’s what makes the community go.”

If you go

What: Franklin Art Garden grand opening

Where: 229 S. Main St., Franklin

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday


  • 2 p.m.: Labyrinth tours by Deb and John Saxon
  • 3 p.m.: Art therapy class by Lisa Durst, Peace of Heart Art
  • 4 p.m.: Labyrinth tours by Deb and John Saxon
Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.