Collaboration brings history of Third Ward into exhibit
Undergraduate students from UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and the School of Art’s Graphic Communications program spent the weekend catching their breath after a marathon eight-week interdisciplinary collaboration dedicated to celebrating the rich history of Houston’s Third Ward.
Architecture professor Patrick Peter’s undergraduate students teamed with professor Cheryl Beckett’s graduate graphic communications students to create the “WorkingShop” exhibit, which is housed in the old woodworking shop at James D. Ryan Middle School (formerly Jack Yates Colored High School).
The exhibit opened Thursday to a packed house and the UH students described the night as heart-warming. One Third Ward resident was so moved by the exhibit that he was nearly brought to tears when he walked in.
“It’s amazing to see how a work can impact an entire community from the innermost level,” said fourth-year architecture student Rose Le. “It was a heartwarming experience to see our work surrounded by laughter of remembrances and tears of nostalgia. I think it was truly something to be proud of for the school as well as the community.”
It was a shotgun start to the semester for students. Thirty minutes into the first day of class for some, and a day before classes even began for others, the 16 students involved were already boarding a bus to take a tour of the workshop. Peters joked that their feet never even hit the ground before they were off and running.
The students were challenged to come up with ways to portray the significant history of the community and the school in a way that was cohesive, engaging and graphically pleasing, while still maintaining historical accuracy.
“We wanted the title of the exhibition “WorkingShop” to serve as a positive metaphor for the school,” Beckett said. “We hoped to use the shop not just as a set of conditions, but as a way to use the tools within the exhibition and have them represent the creative process of learning, doing and creating.”
The students broke off into four groups, each containing one graphic communications student and three architecture students. Each worked on an overall concept and on distinctive elements relating to their topics.
The final exhibition includes four L-shaped walls of various material compositions that tell the story of the Third Ward community’s important churches, monuments, homes, businesses and residents using audio and visual media.
Sir Brown’s Hair Palace and Grovey’s Barbershop (both of which shared an important bond with the community) will be represented by a barbershop vignette set up in the model of Grovey’s, complete with a barber’s chair and sink.
Another vignette pays tribute to Heman Sweatt, a Third Ward resident who was fundamental in spurring the desegregation of schools in Texas.
Students also used an assortment of “found objects” and some of the fixed woodworking machines to tell the story.
Peters says the “outlaw” characteristic these types of collaborations entail provides a distinctive set of teaching challenges as well. Both Beckett and Peters said that at times they were conducting class via cell phone.
“It really changes the format of teaching and the learning experience as a whole,” Peters said. “The students go from sitting in a room and making work that nobody will see … to a realization of ‘Oh my god, their descendants care about what I put on this wall.’”
The exhibition also includes a display of remodeling plans for Emancipation Park that were drawn by seventh graders from Ryan Middle School for an art class taught by Anna Bass. They were assisted by the Houston Chapter of the National Association of Minority Architects.
Funding for the project was provided by the Texas Learning & Computation Center and by UH Instructional Support and Outreach, with research provided by the Center for Public History and UH Research Professor and Yates alumna Carroll Blue.
After their weekend of rest, Peters’ architecture students will begin work on their next project — another Third Ward community project with a focus on Emancipation Park.
The “WorkingShop” exhibition is on display and free to the public at Ryan Middle School through May 1.