Signature Project: Cosmo the Turtle

Melissia Mason

As a part of the Emma Willard School Signature program, students have the opportunity to deeply explore their personal passions. 

Ami M. ’21 recently completed the first part of her two-year Signature project, a large-scale sculpture for the outdoor recreational area at Astor Home for Children in Rhinebeck, New York.

Ami M. ’21 first discovered the Astor Home for Children in 2017 when she attended a Halloween fundraising event featuring actors from her favorite TV show. Although she’s a local, she had never heard about Astor. After the event, Ami researched the organization and discovered a deep connection with the home’s focus on supporting children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. She wanted to learn more about what she could do to help children work through these painful circumstances.

Ami developed a vision for creating an outdoor space of peace and calm for the children at Astor. She imagined that a piece of artwork would bring hope and cheer to the space. For her Signature project, Ami also wanted to learn to do something she’d never done before. Her original idea was to create a 10-foot tall flower sculpture made out of copper sheets. When she presented the design to the team at Astor, they loved the concept but pushed Ami to consider something that the children could interact with. Searching for a medium that the kids could touch and feel, that wouldn’t be knocked over or easily damaged, led Ami to think about a cement sculpture. Having never attempted large-scale sculpture before, everything from the design to the cement work was new to Ami. “It was scary jumping into that,” Ami shares, “but it made it all the more exciting!” 

While planning out the sculpture build, Ami enlisted the help of the Emma Willard School community to help clear the overgrowth in the garden and plant the bulbs that would bloom into colorful flowers in the spring. She planned and executed a bake sale fundraiser to help fund the project.

Ami’s father and brother are both artists and offered their wisdom and support for the sculpture. Her father, who worked on large-scale sculpture in college and has engineering knowledge, served as her off-campus mentor for her Signature project. With the combination of his advice and internet research, Ami built her work of art from the ground up. “A turtle is a simple shape, and the cement is stable and tangible and relatively easy to work with,” Ami shares. "Turtles also symbolize peace and prosperity, themes that aligned with my vision for the sculpture." She learned to mosaic, grout, and set cement on YouTube. By researching blogs about sculpture and art installations designed for playgrounds, she modeled her technique after what others had learned.

The end result of Ami’s planning, research, design, and construction is Cosmo the turtle. The inspiration for Cosmo’s name came from Ami’s astrobiology class, where she learned that the term "cosmos" refers to the universe in a state of order and calm, the opposite of chaos. “I thought this resonated with my sculpture,” she shares. “Even when a kid's having a bad day and everything feels out of their control, Cosmo the turtle will always be there to provide a source of stability and grounding.”

The second part of Ami’s Signature project at Astor will be a 14’ x 9’ sunflower wall mural in acrylic paint. She hopes that (COVID-permitting) the Emma community will again be able to help with the process by drawing out her mural sketch on the wall. “With me alone, it will take a long time,” she explains, “and I don’t want to do it alone… I want to bring Emma to Astor.”

Reflecting back on her Signature experience so far, Ami has some advice for others who are considering Signature projects: “Don’t force yourself to do a project on something that you want to like. You should do something that you do like. This is one of the parts of your high school career that you don’t have to orient around anything that anyone else wants you to do. This is your time to explore unabashedly what you like…. It’s like a sandbox. Here, you can find your own way. I can unabashedly share my passion for art while connecting with my community, and that is invaluable. No amount of AP classes could amount to the impact that this has had on me.”

Chair of Experiential Learning and Signature Director Jon Calos is excited about Ami’s achievements. He shares, "Ami is a wonderful example of what one can accomplish in Signature. With lots of initiative, she made great use of Emma Willard School's resources, as well as those she has at home, and partnered with her site to create and install her beautiful sculpture. We are really proud of her ongoing work!"

One of Ami’s other passions is exploring the art of words. She writes and is a section editor for The Clock (the student-run newspaper) and is currently the co-head of Triangle Lit (the school’s literary magazine). As she completes her senior year, she is looking forward to further developing her writing and art explorations through the college programs to which she’s applied. We are excited to see how Ami’s passion for art in all forms, for learning new things, and for reaching out into the community will propel her as she goes out to serve and shape our world.

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Ami and Cosmo

The Emma team helping with clean-up

Ami building the frame

Cosmo!