Friday, June 17, 2022

Loren Penman Instrumental in Preserving Park Landmark:

Letchworth bridge lives on in Iron Sculptures, displayed at Perry CHS; auctioned profits to benefit Autism Nature Trail

Students from the metal trades program at the Genesee Valley BOCES Mount Morris Career and Technical Education Center have created two large sculptures made with historic iron from the 1875 bridge that ran over the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park. The two sculptures are of a bear and its two cubs and a bald eagle perched in a tree.


“It is kids practicing their skills in art, in metal tools, but creating art that is going to preserve history. And that to me, is very unique about this one, because it is truly something,” said metal trades instructor Olie Olson. “You know, this stuff isn’t going to go away anytime soon, right? So, years and years from now long after I’m gone and most of us are gone, this is going to exist and it’d be one of the very few memories that people have of that trestle bridge.”


The students who worked on the bears were Tyler Jordan from Wayland-Cohocton Central School and Andrew James of Keshequa Central School. The students that worked on the eagle sculpture were Keegan Casagrande and Michael Adkins Jr. of Avon.

A sculpture previously made by students in the Genesee Valley BOCES metal trades program can be seen at the Upper Falls parking lot in Letchworth State Park, just below the new bridge. The sculpture is an archway made of the same iron as the former bridge, similar to these two new sculptures.

“It was all stuff that we were going to get scrapped or we melted and used for something else and we took it and was able to create these,” said Olson, while gesturing to the sculptures.

The iron was donated by the Norfolk Southern, the railroad that owns and replaced the 142-year-old Portageville rail bridge, known as the Portage viaduct, which had reached the end of its service life.

The new bridge, which saw its first train cross Dec. 11, 2017, is a steel and concrete arch bridge known as the Genesee Arch Bridge.

The students were able to utilize a more than 50-foot-long piece of iron from the old bridge to make the sculptures.

Students were able to use skills that they learned in class and practice a real-world application of those skills to create the sculptures.

The details on the two sculptures were made with soapstone and other welding skills that Olson taught to the students throughout the program.

“So, when they talk about having to replace the bridge, what were the engineers looking at?” said Olson while highlighting the skills the students learned to cut and create these sculptures. “That’s what they were looking at. This isn’t going to last forever, but what they’ve done here will last for generations to come and the kids that have worked on it are going to be able to say that.”

The students were able to practice and adapt the skills that they had learned, from cutting large and thick pieces of material, to understanding what speed and angle they needed to make these cuts at, the types of materials that they may be cutting or welding, even understanding the importance of symmetry and balance when it comes to this trade.

Matthew Flowers, executive principal of the Genesee Valley BOCES Mount Morris campus, said that this practical application of skills and theories taught in the classroom is an invaluable skill to have.

Flowers said that everyone gets taught the program in the classroom but not everyone gets the hands-on experience that the students at Genesee Valley BOCES are able to get.

Olson did not like to speak about his role in making these sculptures happen but wanted instead to highlight the hard work and dedication of the students.

“Learning to take pride in their work, well, there’s no classes that teaches this. That pride is what they carry from here into the real world, into the game of life,” said Olson.

Loren Penman, one of the co-founders of the Autism Nature Trail, or the ANT, that opened in October of 2021, was instrumental in acquiring the metal and Olson spoke of how the sculptures created with the iron have remained tethered to Letchworth State Park.

The Autism Nature Trail at Letchworth State Park is a one-of-a-kind, ADA-compliant trail designed to support and encourage sensory perception while providing enjoyable activities for visitors of all abilities and ages.

The project has raised more than $3.5 million and contains to raise money to be able to provide longevity to a trail that is being actively used. The sculptures will be auctioned with the goal to donate the money back to the ANT.

Penman said that these sculptures were not only a great way to teach the students how to give back to their communities but that it was a great way to reuse materials that were possibly going to be scrapped.

“This is art that is going to preserve history,” said Penman.

For the time being the two sculptures will be displayed at Perry Central School until they are auctioned, along with a sculpture recently made by other students in the metal trades program to celebrate Perry’s involvement in the Autism Nature Trail.

“I don’t know where they’re going to end up, but hopefully, it won’t be hidden. That would be my hope, is that it’s someplace where they can be appreciated by everybody and enjoyed,” said Olson. “It’s really nice to see the students when they are able to stand up there and say — with the auctions that we’ve done in the past — the artist is standing next to the piece, and people are bidding on it and it doesn’t matter what it makes, the students are getting the recognition.”

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