By Dedra Cordle
As a proud alum of Grove City High School, Denise Walters always knows where she will be on the last weekend of July. On Friday night, she will be out strolling through the streets of the city’s historic downtown area, catching up with friends who have flown in from across the state and country to attend the annual Homecoming Celebration. On Saturday, she will travel to the city’s many ball diamonds to watch recent and not-so-recent graduating classes compete against each other in the world’s largest alumni softball tournament. And on Sunday, she will again travel to the city’s many ball diamonds to watch the winning teams from some of the recent and occasionally not-so-recent graduating classes compete against each other in the world’s largest softball tournament.
“I always make it a point to come out here every year because it is such a great place to be and such a great atmosphere to be around,” said Walters, a graduate of the class of 1983. “Not only do you get to see some decent ball being played at the tournament, but the event also serves as a giant reunion where you are able to see not just your graduating class but also those people who you went to school with that were younger or older.”
She said she does not believe there is anything like the Grove City High School Homecoming Celebration in the country – or perhaps the world.
“You just don’t hear about thousands of people coming back to their hometown every single year for a weekend of reminiscing and playing softball,” she said. “It’s a special event for all of us involved and we love and cherish it.”
Because she still lives in the Grove City area, Walters often hears about new events that could be taking place over the course of the homecoming weekend before anyone else. Admittedly, she said new events rarely take place during the homecoming weekend which is why she was so excited to learn that a mural commemorating the longstanding history of the alumni softball tournament would be unveiled at one of the local parks.
“I am a big believer in art and what it can do for a community,” said Walters. “I was so happy to hear that the city would be getting this mural and that it celebrated our homecoming traditions.”
She was invited to come out to see the large-scale mural at Fryer Park before the official dedication was to take place in late July. She said her jaw dropped when she saw the artwork and it was not just because it was beautiful. It was also because she was one of the softball players immortalized on the 10.5 feet by 28 feet mural.
“I could not believe what I was seeing,” she said. “I had no idea that I would be one of the faces featured on the artwork but I think it is a lot of fun. I am so glad that someone wanted to immortalize our hometown tradition and also bring a wonderful piece of art to the community.”
Artists David Lane and Cody Wood were the creators of the large-scale stereoscopic painting located at Fryer Park, aptly named “Game Time.” Neither are natives of the city although Lane has been living there for close to three decades.
He said his love for the city started to take root when he got to know the students and families at Park Street Intermediate where he taught art, and also through the efforts of his wife Karen, a GCHS alum and (now retired) archivist at the Grove City Library.
“The love that they had for this community was infectious,” said Lane. “I remember some of my students telling me they never wanted to leave the city and some of my fondest memories come from my wife who would come home from work telling me all the new historical facts she learned about the city that day.”
As the spouse of a proud graduate, Lane said he could also be found throughout the city for the weekend-long Homecoming Celebration and that is why he wanted to capture the spirit of the event through his art.
“It’s the convergence of the old and new that really stands apart for me,” he said. “It’s history but it is also the present at the same time.”
Lane said he has always wanted to create a series of paintings that showcase the “old and new” aspects of the city via a stereoscopic technique that is used to enable a three-dimensional effect, adding an illusion of depth to an otherwise flat image. He mentioned that he brought up his vision many times in the past to city officials – mostly while he was commissioned to do other murals throughout the area – but was rebuffed each time.
“I would pitch my idea to anyone who would listen,” he said.
Late last year, he brought his idea to the board of trustees at Visit Grove City, the convention and visitor bureau. He showed the board a few dozen photographs he had taken of teams at the alumni softball tournament using a stereoscopic camera and explained his concept of creating a large-scale stereoscopic mural that would include a modern day portrait of those people on one side with an imagined yesteryear photo of those same people in 1983, the year when the softball tournament was founded. A viewer placed a short distance away from the mural would bring those two images together for a three-dimensional experience that would evoke the future through a glimpse of the past and present.
Bev Babbert, president of the Visit Grove City board, said they were all blown away by his idea.
“We were absolutely thrilled by it,” she said. “It was such a novel idea, especially to create this mural using the stereoscopic technique, and to our knowledge there wasn’t anything else like that on this scale out there.”
She explained that the mission of Visit Grove City is to get eyes on the city and feet in the city, and one way they can do that is by offering a public artwork that is “completely different” from other communities.
“We immediately had visions of an ArtWalk, or an Art-Venture if you will, where people could just go all throughout the city exploring pieces of public art,” said Babbert.
Instead of commissioning Lane to this singular work, the board decided to enter into a contract with him and partner Cody Wood of Galloway to create a series of large-scale stereoscopic paintings to “illustrate the vibrance of the growing city, the strength of the community, and the connection to its rich past.”
After doing research to create period-appropriate attire for the “team” featured in the “Game Time” mural – the artists noted that the people in the painting never posed together for any portrait – the duo transformed the garage of Wood’s home into a massive studio that could handle the planned large mural – mostly.
“We had to break it down in multiple panels because it was just too big to fit anywhere,” said Wood. “We didn’t actually see it all come together until the city was able to build a platform big enough to place the panels on.
“It was such a relief to know that not only did everything fit together, but that you could also see the three-dimensional effect through the viewer located near the mural.”
After working on the piece for more than six months, the public was finally able to see their creation on July 29 at Fryer Park. In the “Game Time” mural, the right side features a present-day portrait of an alumni softball team taken on an iPhone while the right side features the 1983 version of that alumni softball team taken using a Polaroid camera.
Lane and Wood said they took some creative license in the yesteryear photo as they did not have any real evidence as to what those people looked like in the past. Walters said she could attest to that.
“They made me a lot thinner than I actually was back in 1983,” she joked. “But I don’t mind. I think it is great regardless.”
This was the first large-scale mural project that Wood has worked on. He said although it was a challenge to create at times, he was grateful that Lane chose him to be a partner on this piece and those planned in the future.
Unlike Lane and Walters, Wood had no real experience with the alumni softball tournament and its homecoming festivities prior to his involvement in the artwork but said he came to love the spirit of what it represents. He said he hopes those who cherish the area’s tradition will be able to love and enjoy this stereoscopic painting almost as much as they do their homecoming celebration and softball tournament.
“It’s a standing invitation for people to visit Grove City to celebrate its heritage, its spirit of fun and its sense of adventure,” he said. “It is our hope that this gift brings together the past and the present for a snapshot of the future.”
“Game Time” can be viewed near the baseball diamonds at Fryer Park, located at 3899 Orders Road. The artists said that those who use the viewer to experience the three-dimensional effect of the painting should allow their eyes a few seconds to adjust in order to see the illusion of depth in the otherwise flat image.