Middle Schoolers’ Spuddy draws big crowd

Students, families and faculty gather around the new handcrafted mural of Spuddy by the entrance to Horizon West Middle School.( Photos/Nancy Hanson.)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Some 600 sixth graders bent over grid charts for months, parachute cording in hand, to create one final birthday gift for Moorhead Public Schools – a 16-by-12-foot depiction of their famed potato mascot, Spuddy.
The unveiling of the enormous cross-stitch version of Moorhead schools’ mascot highlighted the final celebration of the system’s year-long 150th birthday. Hundreds of middle schoolers, their parents, siblings young and old, and a corps of teachers and district staffers gathered on the north flank of Horizon Middle School West Thursday, May 9, to get their first glimpse of the students’ handiwork.
“This was truly a group effort to bring the community together – to celebrate our unity and our diversity,” art teacher Trudy Stubson told the crowd. “We think Spuddy is the perfect symbol to represent our community’s pride, spirit and unity as a school.”
Trudy and fellow art teacher Samantha Saarion designed the towering Spud, who’s giving a cheerful wave to passersby on 12th Avenue South. Inspired by an artist whose style she spotted on a trip to Spain, Samantha brought the idea for a project to her colleague. Their plan for Spuddy would involve the largest number possible of young crafters. Finished, it would belong to the whole community.
With funding from a Legacy Fund grant awarded through the Lake Region Arts Council, the two teachers chose a fresh medium for their students’ creation: Cross-stitch. This cross-stitch project, though, is as far from traditional needlewomen’s techniques as marble is from soap sculpture.
Yes, the artwork was charted on a grid, just like Mom’s craft projects, requiring the artists to meticulously count out squares to guide their fingers in forming the stitches. But instead of fabric, the base was three-foot squares of woven metal fencing. Instead of needles and embroidery floss, the students used their fingers to lace colored paracord (the kind employed by NASA) – sturdy, durable and equal to the challenge of standing up to the worst Minnesota weather can blow in its face.
Teams of students worked on dozens of blocks of squared-off steel fencing. Each stitch was formed by one inserting the cord from the first side, then a partner retrieving it from the opposite face and sending it back again. And yes, each square is filled with a corded X, cross-stitch style … but one that’s over an inch on each side.
After thousands of hours of this heavy-duty stitchery, the finished squares needed to be joined to bring the whole image together. “Sam and I spent a whole weekend piecing it together,” Trudy reports. Jeff DeVillers of MinKo Construction secured its metal frame in place on the north wall next to Entrance #1, then covered it with an enormous sheet of black plastic to heighten the anticipation of what lay beneath.
It would become the highlight of the school system’s final birthday event hosted by Horizon West for Spuddy and his tribe. Thursday afternoon’s attractions were designed to highlight the many ethnicities that make up Moorhead schools. Among the most popular draws were desserts representing Somali, Spanish and Kurdish delicacies, including sweet baklava that had happy eaters licking their fingers. America’s contribution to the menu: freshly popped popcorn. The authentic foods were provided by Vian Mustafa, Sayra Crary, Beatric Osland and Ondrea Cook.
Inside the school’s sun-drenched lobby, students and guests crafted goofy birthday hats, played games and submitted to face painting fantasies.
The gymnasium was standing-room-only for the musical program again celebrating students’ cultures. Mike Gabbard, a drummer of the Delaware Tribe in Oklahoma, performed an honor song for Moorhead Area Public Schools. Directed by Kira Degerness, the Fifth and Sixth Grade Honor Choir sang Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and the jazz standard “Blue Skies.” The school’s Guitar Ensemble played “Eleanor Rigby,” “Au Claire de Lune” and “Hey There Delilah,” all under the direction of Joe Lindquist.
Then it was time for that much-anticipated first glimpse of gargantuan Spuddy. The crowd pressed through the doors onto the north lawn, where Trudy, Samantha and Horizon West principal Dr. Amanda Henry shared brief thoughts on what the project means to this year’s students and countless classes yet to come. A dozen eager sixth-grade boys – most with their upper lips decorated with face-painted mustaches – ripped away the plastic veil, finally revealing the entire finished Spud in all its towering glory.
Trudy points out that she and Samantha specifically chose materials for their toughness, intending the young people’s creation to be a permanent part of the neighborhood. “We always intended to place this on the outside of the school,” she says, “so everyone who drives by can be inspired by our school and our community pride.”

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