The Kente Heritage bench sponsored by Atchison United is the most recent of the artful benches set in the Atchison Community to round out the inaugural year of the Atchison Art Association Beautiful Benches Project.

The group gathered on Dec. 30, 2021, to set the colorful bench that pays tribute and showcases the diverse community of Atchison. The bench is located near the entrance of the Atchison Family YMCA Cray Community Center located in the 300 block of Commercial Street.

Patty Boldridge designed the bench in collaboration with Atchison United and Atchison Art Association members. The Kente Cloth is the inspiration that culminated in the bench design. The meaning of the bench tells the story of all who came to Atchison in search of a better tomorrow and their descendants who are still here today, according to the narrative written by Latisha Downing, of Atchison United.

Atchison United President Sean Crittendon described the bench as a piece that celebrates the family unit and unites us all.

The bench is patterned after the traditional weaving, colors of the Kente Cloth, and is accentuated in the top surface of the bench, Downing explained. Interlocked usage of color represents our community weaving the past and future together.

The color representation is as follows: Red – sacrifice, struggle, and bloodshed; blue – sky, peace, harmony, love, and togetherness; gold – royalty, wealth, glory, spiritual purity; yellow –beauty, preciousness, holiness, and fertility; orange-yellow – energy and movement; green – spiritual renewal, earth, planting, growth and harvest; and black – the spirit of ancestors, strength, and spiritual energy.

Boldridge said she’s honored to have designed the bench as an outcome of the conceptual collaboration with the Atchison United group.

“It is really is wonderful opportunity to create such a bench,” Boldridge said. “I was honored and humbled to do it at the same time.”

Atchison United asked to tell the history of the African American heritage in the community, but the symbols have meanings that are relevant for everyone, Boldridge said. The concept took longer than expected to design because I wanted to make sure the message was clear.

“When we all collaborated the ideas flowed and the final product is phenomenal,” Crittendon said. “We wanted to honor the heritage and contributions of the African American Community to the City of Atchison.”

The sides of the bench also have a series of symbols, geometric shapes, and patterns continuing to tell the story. Kente Cloth style is woven in the tile work along the edges to enhance the design throughout.

As one looks at the design of the dominant side panels from left to right the symbols and patterns have a hidden meaning: The seed of the WaWa Tree represents resilience, hardiness, toughness, perseverance, a symbolic message that reminds to push through in hard times. The woven tile patterns throughout represent sorrow and poverty; the geometric shapes represent the outcome of climbing a good tree – support, cooperation, and encouragement to represent a message that whenever providing a push for others and amplified energy comes to you along your journey.

The joined hands in the centers are hand-painted fused glass tiles by Susan Jablon, a New York-based tile artist, representing the way the community holds each other up, surrounded by geometric tiles to represent the circle of life. Along the bottom, the zigzag pattern represents the paths of ancestors.

“The zigzags are the hills and valleys we go throughout our lives to help each other out,” Boldridge said.

Atchison United has been extremely happy with the outcome and the opportunity to work with Boldridge and the Project Manager Angie Cairo, Atchison Art Association Beautiful Benches Project, and the City of Atchison to set the bench, Crittendon said.

“Atchison has a rich history of education with Lincoln School, African American-owned businesses/Entrepreneurship and churches,” Crittendon said. “Which were and are the hub of the African American community and connection to the legacy of many African-American families that are still around today.”

For more information about the meaning of the Kente Bench visit the Atchison United page at facebook.com.

For more about the Art Association’s ongoing Beautiful Benches Project a public art program, visit atchisonart.org/public-art. To sponsor a bench call Cairo at 913-367-4278 and leave a message.

Other benches within Atchison city limits are: three benches are in place at the Reisner Park Skatepark in cooperation with the Skate High with Hope Joshua Kinsman Foundation; “Pixelated Picasso, and a bench across the street created by Ronda Crossland, of the Artist’s Box in the 700 block of Commercial Street; and “Pride” located at the corner of Eighth and Commercial streets.

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