Emerson Students Unveil First Phase of Japanese Tea House Tile Project

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Third grade students at Emerson World Languages and Cultures Magnet School have created a lasting legacy that will reflect the history of a now-demolished property at the corner of Plum and State streets in Uptown Westerville. Original tiles that covered the walls of the Japanese Tea House and Shinto Shrine were repurposed by the students to create new artwork that will remind citizens of the significance of that property and its ties to Japan. Under the direction of third grade teachers Beth Dalin and Kristen Quinn, students worked with Westerville Public Library historian Beth Weinhardt to make a mural representative of the Japanese culture and the Teahouse.

The resulting art piece is a 24” x 24” mural that will be put on permanent outdoor display at the Westerville Public Library. The mural will serve as a reminder of the unique history of the property and will be incorporated into the Historic Westerville Walking Tour. The presentation of tiles occurred on Thursday, May 24, at the Westerville Public Library. The ceremony included library personnel, Emerson third grade students, teachers, Americorps Fellows; and other community dignitaries.

Mark Sherman, former Emerson parent, helped the children to brainstorm ideas, and local artists Adena Griffith and Lora Rini helped them turn their vision into art. Helen Chan, an Americorps volunteer, orchestrated the logistics so the two third grade classes would have time and space to complete the project. She also invited Basam Bitar from the City of Westerville’s Planning Commission to talk with them about the re-purposing of the tiles, and Westerville librarian Beth Weinhardt to share facts about the property’s history. The City of Westerville was thanked for setting the tiles aside so they would not get destroyed when the Tea House was torn down. Don Barlow, Director of the Westerville Public Library, was lauded for allowing the artwork to be placed outside the library and across the street from the site of the former Tea House. The Bette Marschall Foundation was also publicly thanked for providing funds which were used to purchase materials for this project and for future tile art. Chan, Dalin, and Karen Jiobu – all of whom were present at the tile ceremony – formed a group in 2004 that tried in vain to save the Tea House.

Through this project students learned the value of service and preserving local history. The goal of service-learning is to merge real-world community needs with the curriculum, resulting in improved academic results as well as encouraging pupils to become civic-minded at an early age.

News of the project spread and eventually made its way to the offices of the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit. Consul General Kuninori Matsuda decided to thank the Emerson students for their efforts by surprising them this spring with the gift of several Japanese figurines, which are now proudly displayed at the school.

The Counsul General wrote, “For many months now I have been reading, with great interest, about the struggle to save the Kyoto Tea House in Westerville. I was quite saddened to learn it would be demolished. Now I read that you will preserve an important part of Westerville history and Japanese culture by using tiles from the tea house to create something very special. I am confident that you will do a wonderful job in your creations and I hope that someday I may have the opportunity to see the final result. Until that time, I hope you will accept this small gift for your school as a reminder of my admiration for your willingness to take on such an important project and my sincere appreciation.”