It takes a village to create a sculpture

Artist Tess Little used the hands of 300 people in her Wenzler Park art.

Little used adult and children’s handprints, stainless steel and her vivid imagination to create a wonderful addition to CitySites Public Art in Kettering.

The whole process started in June of 2010, when Little held a series of community meetings to find out what type of sculpture the neighborhood residents would want.

“They said they wanted something happy, friendly and uplifting with animals and plants. And maybe something their children could perform on or play on,” said Little, who teaches sculpture at Sinclair Community College in Dayton.

She hit the mark on all requests. Outstretched hands seem friendly; and the symbols inside are things that make people happy: Mickey Mouse, flowers, birds, golf and shoes, to name a few. The Friendship Arch itself has adult hands reaching up to the sky. The concrete plaza at the base can be used as a stage.

“It became apparent to me that the children’s hands had to be more intimate. They are on the Sports Bench and the Family Bench, so they could find their own hand,” Little said. “The oldest participant is 98, and the youngest was 3 weeks old.”

It took Little hundreds of hours to create the three pieces that are the focal point along a path by the picnic shelter. She scanned in the hand images, which were cut by a C&C laser cutter and fabricated by Budde Sheet Metal in Dayton. Besides the 48-foot-long bronze Heritage Sculpture on Courthouse Square in downtown Dayton, it’s one of the most ambitious projects she has designed.

The Friendship Arch and benches were created to last at least 50 years. Stainless steel was used so it wouldn’t have to be painted. A bronze plaque designates the community groups, companies and residents who were involved. The 300 people who donated hand drawings are listed in alphabetical order.

Other public pieces created by Little include “The Many Faces of Dayton” photo mural at Sinclair and the “Unity Puzzle” carried during the last six Martin Luther King parades held in Dayton.

Little has also managed the REACH Across Dayton project for the past 19 years. Little has won numerous Merit Awards for teaching excellence and was named a YWCA Woman of Influence in 2009.

“I love the sculpture. I think it’s just beautiful and meaningful,” said Donna Hawkins, who was at the park with her four young children. “We just moved back to Kettering this past weekend, and I’m so happy to be here. The whole community helps families grow.”

Contact contributing arts writer Pamela Dillon at

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