Seton Hill art student creates memorial for Greensburg philanthropist

The sculpture was designed after a mountain because Womack was considered a rock to the Greensburg community. Photo courtesy of triblive.com.

The sculpture was designed after a mountain because Womack was considered a rock to the Greensburg community. Photo courtesy of triblive.com.

Saige Baxter, senior studio art major with an art history minor at Seton Hill University (SHU), has left her mark on the Greensburg community. A new sculpture was unveiled at Greensburg Salem High School on Nov. 15, following the $200,000 renovation on the school’s fitness center. The sculpture was dedicated to Jennings Womack, a Greensburg philanthropist who passed away in early 2015.

Womack worked with Excela Health, the Palace Theatre, the Train Station, Westmoreland Trust, the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, the Westmoreland/Frick Hospital Foundation and more in the community. Womack was also an assistant coach with the Greensburg Salem High School football team for about five years. The fitness center is named after him.

“Eleven months ago I was selling Christmas ornaments and I sold a $6 ornament to a man,” explained Baxter. “He approached me about a month later asking me to do this massive project. I never thought that a $6 ornament would get me there.”

This man was Ray Charley, a fellow Greensburg philanthropist. He asked Baxter to honor Jennings Womack with a sculpture created by her.

“I started working on a team with him and some other staff members from Greensburg Salem High School to design and fabricate a sculpture,” said Baxter. “We started out with a couple months of many, many budget and design meetings. Once we agreed to a design and created a small model of it, that had to pass, and the next eight to nine months after that was just hard work and a lot of physical labor. It feels good for it to be there in a public setting where it’s meant to be.”

The renovations were a result of Womack’s persistence and fundraising. When Womack passed away, Charley continued to raise the funds to finish the improvement of the building in his honor.

Baxter assisted other artists during her internship with the Neu Kirche Contemporary Arts Center. Photo courtesy of neukirche.org.

Baxter assisted other artists during her internship with the Neu Kirche Contemporary Arts Center. Photo courtesy of neukirche.org.

“What I’ve learned from this project is that I feel very envious of people who got to know him,” said Baxter. “When I first was on this project, I really did not know who he was. The team I was working with started showing me videos of him. Every design meeting we had, they’d add another story about him and they would tell me all these stories to try and get me to understand who he was. He did so much, that it was very difficult to come up with a design.”

Baxter explained that it was difficult to reach a design she felt confident in.

“About a few weeks after dozens of designs and still not feeling right, I took a trip to Catalina Island with my boyfriend to visit some family,” said Baxter. “It’s a small island off of California. I just needed a few days to relax. We were hiking, and– this sounds so cliche, ridiculously cheesy, but we were literally hiking on the mountains and hit just hit me. I was like ‘this is it.’”

“This island is made up of these remote mountains and this island would not exist without this mountain. I realized they were the foundation,” said Baxter. “They were very strong and simple, and when working with the team we had decided that strong and simple described Womack, so I took that back with me and started to think of designs that were a little more parallel mountains and layered and strong.”

Baxter (left) poses with Carole Blair (right), the "best friend" of Womack. Photo courtesy of triblive.com.

Baxter (left) poses with Carole Blair (right), the “best friend” of Womack. Photo courtesy of triblive.com.

In addition to it being a representation of strength, Baxter also made the sculpture itself resilient. “It’s interactive so the high school kids can actually sit on it and interact with the sculpture,” she added. “I’m sure they’ll be climbing it– I made it strong just in case.”

“I’ve always been interested in art,” said Baxter. “It’s always been a heavy influence in my life and I actually spent four months of my sophomore year studying art in Florence, Italy. It was a wonderful experience.”

“I’m classically trained as an oil painter. Then about a year and a half ago I made the transition to welding and I would’ve never thought that I would have been welding in a million years,” said Baxter. “But as soon as I tried it for the first time, everything changed for me.”

Patricia Beachley, assistant professor and director of the art program at SHU, introduced Baxter to welding. After her first experience, she began the transition to working with communities and programs to share her talents.

“I have been working with community non-profits and projects in Pittsburgh with Mobile Sculpture Workshop, which is a community outreach program for kids in Pittsburgh where they work on community projects throughout the summer, and at the end of the summer they have a large sculpture for a community of our choice,” said Baxter.

Studio art student Saige Baxter poses for a photo. Photo courtesy of H.Carnahan/Setonian.

Studio art student Saige Baxter poses for a photo. Photo courtesy of H.Carnahan/Setonian.

Baxter has also worked with Neu Kirche Contemporary Arts Center in Pittsburgh, which is dedicated to supporting women in the arts. Interning as their Fallow Grounds for Sculpture Coordinator, Baxter helped with the annual public art residency program occurring June to August located in the economically challenged neighborhood of East Deutschtown, on Pittsburgh’s North Side, according to the Neu Kirche website.

Graduating this December, Baxter will continue her passion for art and community projects.

“I have a couple projects lined up in Pittsburgh, and a couple collaboration projects, one with Hannah Altman, who is an incredible photographer in Pittsburgh,” said Baxter. “We’re going to collaborate sculpture and photography. I would like to keep applying to community projects and sculpture commissions in and around Pittsburgh until I go to graduate school.”

“It went so fast. If I had advice for anyone, it’s that nothing will get done unless you work hard. I wouldn’t have had all these great opportunities if I wasn’t constantly at it and constantly working towards what I want.”

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