Feature Story

November 16, 2023 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan artist-in-residence Sarah Hahn ’08 works on a wax mold for the base of a 10-foot-tall dandelion seed she is creating as part of a public art sculpture she plans to install on campus in May. (Photos by Paul Vernon)

Cultivating Creativity

Ohio Wesleyan Alumna Sarah Hahn Returns as University’s 2023-2024 Artist-in-Residence

When spring blooms at Ohio Wesleyan University next year, Sarah Hahn plans to scatter three 10-foot-tall dandelion seeds throughout the campus landscape.

As OWU’s 2023-2024 artist-in-residence, Hahn will add a pair of 4-foot-tall fingertips holding the empty head of a dandelion flower and then complete her public art installation, tentatively titled “Where the Wind Carries You,” by adding a rippling metal wall with a sustainability message and a native plant pollinator garden.

With a paper template behind her, Sarah Hahn explains how she will create three bronze-and-stainless-steel dandelion seeds for her outdoor public art piece. She is OWU’s second artist-in-residence.

Planting Positivity

“There are a lot of different meanings behind the piece,” said Hahn, a 2008 Ohio Wesleyan graduate. “I like the imagery of the dandelion as it has many beneficial properties and yet is considered a weed. It is not native to Ohio but has been part of, and beneficial to, our ecosystem, unlike many other non-native species.

“The seeds propel themselves far and wide, and are prolific, helping other plants and the soil where they grow,” said Hahn, who majored in Fine Arts at OWU. “I like this as a representation for the graduating students – to disperse after their time at Ohio Wesleyan and benefit the communities in which they live.

“The fingertips holding the head of the dandelion represent the human interaction and involvement with shaping the environment around us,” Hahn continued. “The wall is an extension of my series ‘Ripples Into the Universe.’ This series represents all the small actions, events, and ideas that take place, that coalesce, to create a larger whole that propels society and the universe.”

Recycled Media

Hahn, who is teaching sculpture classes during her Ohio Wesleyan residency, is creating the fluffy-looking dandelion seeds using bronze and stainless steel, and the fingertips by creating a metal frame and using insulating foam, epoxy clay, and bronze paint to complete them. She is using as many recycled and sustainable materials as possible, including reclaimed clay, recycled wax, and insulating foam recovered by “dumpster diving” at a construction site.

In addition to the text, perhaps part of a poem, incorporated into the rippling wall, Hahn will inscribe messages on the three scattered seeds as well.

“One seed pod will have the ideas of sustainability from Girl Scouts (including Delaware Troup 5080) carved into it, another the ideas from my college students, and the third from some OWU faculty,” Hahn said.

Sarah Hahn’s public art will include 4-foot fingertips holding a dandelion head, a rippled wall, and a live pollinator garden in addition to the scattered seeds.

A Growing Reminder

In addition, she hopes the native garden helps propagate the green message while simultaneously educating the community about the beauty and importance of pollinator plants.

“One of the benefits of dandelions is that they are an early source of pollen, but there are many plants that provide pollen and other benefits throughout the growing season,” Hahn said. “These plants also require less water and care once they are established as they have evolved to grow in Ohio weather.”

‘Dare to be Great’

As an OWU student, Hahn concentrated her Bachelor of Fine Arts studies in ceramics and figure drawing. She also served on the department’s student-faculty board and helped run the Werner Gallery and the Annual Spring Juried Exhibit.

She still is motivated by her first ceramics professor, Phyllis Kloda, who “had a saying ‘dare to be great’ that I still hear in my mind sometimes,” Hahn said. “Marty Kalb pushed me a lot, too. I only had Kristina Bogdanov my last year, but she has been an encouraging force throughout my career. There were so many wonderful and influential faculty members even outside of my area of study, which I was really fortunate to have.”

An Alumna’s Advice

For current students, the alumna-turned-instructor offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid to travel and do residencies. That is something I wish I had done but was worried about the financial aspect.”

And for Fine Arts students, Hahn adds: “Find artists who want help on projects, and work with or under as many artists as you can. You will learn more about their working practice by working on one of their projects with them. Keep making. It is easy to stop. Life will pull you in different directions and whether you are applying for exhibits or commissions, you will need work to show. I have heard often that a one-to-10 success rate of what you apply for is really good. Hearing no doesn't get easier, at least for me, but it keeps me moving on to the next opportunity.”

Bloom and Benefit

Hahn, who earned her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Kentucky in 2012, hopes to finish and install her Ohio Wesleyan sculpture in time for the May commencement ceremony. She expects to collaborate with OWU and Delaware Hayes High School students, local Girl Scouts, sustainability groups, and others to plant the garden as well as create plant markers and seed bombs to inspire others – especially OWU’s Class of 2024 – to bloom and benefit their communities.

In addition to serving as Ohio Wesleyan’s second artist-in-residence, Hahn teaches at the Cultural Art Center in downtown Columbus.

Her Ohio Wesleyan residency is being funded by The Ebb and Teena Haycock Public Art Endowment. Ebb Haycock created OWU’s first foundry and was a member of the Fine Arts faculty until his retirement in 1985. Haycock Hall, where Hahn is creating her sculpture, was named for him. The public art endowment was created in 2020 by Haycock’s daughter, Lorry Luikart ’73, in memory of both her father and mother.

Andrew Wilson ’13 was OWU’s inaugural artist-in-residence and served during the 2020-2021 academic year. His outdoor sculpture, titled “Back Porch,” is a 14-foot high, 8-foot wide, and 8-foot deep metal artwork that honors generations of OWU Black lives and legacies.

Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Fine Arts courses, faculty, and opportunities at owu.edu/FineArts.