Tucked next to the Parkersburg Art Center’s eighth street facade, a friendly brachiosaurus overlooks a newly renovated courtyard. The dino, nicknamed “PACosaurus,” is one of many delightful features that make Melissa’s Garden a special place.
The garden had previously been used as a sculpture garden when the Parkersburg Art Center (PAC) was located at 220 8th Street, where the Red Cross now sits. Two years ago, a plan formed to revive the garden as an artful outdoor play area for children. The new outdoor space was the brainchild of April Jenkins, one of the Parkersburg Art Center’s ArtStart Preschool teachers, while initial drawings for the outdoor classroom were designed by Abby Hayhurst. As plans were set forth, the PAC partnered with the Ross Foundation to bring April and Abby’s dreams to life.
The garden is named for Melissa Ross, a member of the Ross Foundation Board whose children attend ArtStart and frequent other youth programs at the Art Center. Melissa’s children have already had a chance to enjoy the space this summer, through ArtStart and Camp Creativity.
The enclosed courtyard features sand and water tables, a tiered deck that doubles as an outdoor classroom space or a stage, chalk walls, a picnic area, and toy boxes. A two-story screen wall shades the back half of the garden, while a plasma-cut fence (capped with the PACosaurus) greets visitors from the street. An elegant Japanese Maple tree remains from the courtyard’s former lives, recently trimmed by Jessie’s husband, Phil Siefert.
“Kids need to spend time outdoors,” said Jessie Siefert, Managing Director of the Parkersburg Art Center. “The ArtStart Preschool is such a wonderful program. Allowing the opportunity for kids to play in sand and water, to dig in the soil and watch vegetables grow, to blow bubbles and collect leaves, play with shadows and run with abandon makes it all better.”
A colorful mural of a tree graces the wall behind the picnic area, designed and painted by MJ Ayson-Lemon. “I love MJ’s mural,” said Michelle Waters, Parkersburg-based photographer and member of Downtown PKB’s Arts and Culture Committee, “and the brick walls and swirling landscapes throughout. It feels so peaceful.”
The design for the steel panel fencing was done by Hayhurst, and then transferred to the steel panels by Siefert, her husband, Phil, and Hayhurst at WVU Parkersburg. Students at the Center for Applied Technology at WVU Parkersburg used hand-held plasma cutters to carve the design, under the direction of Joe Hunt.
“We are in the process of illuminating the beautifully cut steel panels from behind,” said Seifert. “This creates a wonderful light pattern at night. What was an empty lot is now creatively cared for.”
In addition to being used for children’s programming, the Parkersburg Art Center is considering including the garden as an event rental space for special events.
“I would love to see open-air poetry readings and acoustic performances in the garden,” said Waters. “I think this space as a whole combines the beauty of the outdoors with the privacy of a nook. And being part of the arts community, I think it can only enhance the already-growing cultural scene in Downtown Parkersburg.”