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Howes: Churchill heir poised to deliver public art to new Detroit school

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News
Eve's Apple, painted by Sir Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Edwina Sandys, is a painted steel structure on display in Windsor's Sculpture Garden.

Detroit — In an unlikely corner of the city, students showing up next fall at Cornerstone’s planned Adams-Young Academy would be greeted by Sir Winston Churchill’s granddaughter.

Or her art, anyway. Edwina Sandys visited Detroit over the weekend to scope out the site for a sculpture essentially commissioned by Cornerstone Schools’ Founder Clark Durant. They envision a public art installation for Cornerstone's latest project, already underway in the abandoned John R. King School on Cheyenne south of McNichols near Schaefer.

“I would like them to walk through something,” Sandys said in an interview Monday, “something that would make a sense of arriving.” Perhaps, she adds, an arch in the shape of two hands, adorned with a large analog clock — all of it crafted out of steel, one of her favorite mediums.

Her sculpture still is in the planning stages. But just a block away from Cornerstone's Lincoln-King Academy, the rehab of the city's old King School is pushing ahead. It's another example of how education can repurpose the dilapidated remains of another era and rebuild pieces of a neighborhood fallen on hard times. 

Further east on McNichols, a consortium of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the Kresge Foundation, the University of Michigan's School of Education and Starfish Family Services is proposing a version of pretty much the same thing. The so-called "P-20" education complex on the campus of Marygrove College, built around two DPSCD schools, could help stabilize the surrounding neighborhood and drive community redevelopment.

“We’re starting from scratch,” said Durant, this year named a Churchill Fellow at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo. “What the world abandons is where the gold really lies — in buildings and in lives. There's so much possibility in the lives of these kids.”

He's right, of course. Strip away the politics and confrontation, the fractious battles between adults in the name of "the kids," and education in Detroit demands solutions that actually prepare young people to learn and work in a fast-changing world.

"I can't teach you science and social studies if you can't read," said Phillip Price, principal at Cornerstone's nearby Lincoln-King K-8 school. "One of the things we hope to do is create stability and retention. You want your students to stay with you. The school becomes stronger."

First it needs a home. Built in 1931, the art deco King School on Cheyenne near Grove sat empty for roughly 15 years. It was gutted, windowless, its pipes long ago looted by scrappers to raise a quick buck. An estimated 40,000 gallons of water filled its cavernous basement, home to boiler and coal rooms now drained.

"The detailing is absolutely amazing," said Francis Resendes managing principal of Detroit-based Resendes Design Group. "They had a sense that this was about growing."

Until it wasn't, when demographics and a continuing exodus of Detroiters rendered school buildings like King redundant — and a drain on the school system's bleak finances. Durant and the team at Cornerstone instead spied redemption, and earlier this year at the Churchill Fellows weekend on the campus of Westminster College, site of Sir Winston's famous "Iron Curtain" speech, he had an idea.

Would Sandys, a self-trained artist in the tradition of her grandfather, consider designing a piece that could inspire Cornerstone students, staff and the neighborhood? This for the artist who devised a marble sculpture called "Child" for the United Nations School in New York, who transformed a 32-foot section of the Berlin Wall into a piece called "Breakthrough" now on the Westminster campus.

"I was interested," she said, reeling off the latest ideas for an arch that would evoke the "hands of friendship caring and loving." Her grandfather, also self-taught, would be proud.

"He was the first artist I knew," said Sandys, born in 1938. "He didn't think he was artistic until he was 40 and he took it up. I did like my grandfather's painting and did watch him painting. I have a great love for bright colors. He loved bright colors. He was bold in his painting. He got right to it with vigor."

So, it appears, does she.

(313) 222-2106

Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, listen to his Saturday podcasts, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM