Deer Park has always been a soft spot in the heart of Cleveland. Some people who went to 17th Street and Harle Avenue to pet deer romanticize it. Long after deer remained in name only, later generations fondly remember the big climbing tree that was so popular until it died in 2011. In the Spring 2002, it became the only city park included in the historic district when the Historic Cleveland Neighborhood Association organized.
Cleveland Shade Tree Board and Historic Cleveland Neighborhood Association member Amy Banks said generations of boys and girls climbed on the very large green ash in the middle of the park and it was a big deal when the tree finally died. Though another tree, a willow oak, was planted for Arbor Day 2011, “it was a big deal to take the climbing tree down,” she said. “It was the perfect tree to have in the center of a park.”
With the loss of the tree, a climbing wall on the south end of the playground became a centerpiece attraction where children could expend excess energy until gradually, time, wear and tear got the best of the wall.
“Cleveland Urban Forester Dan Hartman was down here one day and the climbing wall was just in disarray, so I told him that if he would get the plywood up then I would get the painters,” Banks said. “And now the climbing wall is an art piece, which makes it all the more unique.”
The painters are Angela Sesler and Joy Ingels, both Lee University students with connections to the city. They too have a soft spot in their hearts for Deer Park. Sesler has family in the city and remembers the going to the park on holidays and during summer vacations. Ingels is from Cleveland and babysat artist Josh Coleman’s children.
“I think it’s neat that we have roots here. Deer Park is important for us,” Ms. Sesler said.
“I’ve lived here for about 10 years and I have a lot of memories growing up here and coming to Deer Park,” Ms. Ingels said. “I was born in Birchwood, but then we lived in Florida for about seven years and then moved back here.”
Ms. Ingels is entering her junior year. She is majoring in humanities and studying the classic period of Late Antiquity. “I’m doing a lot of Latin, philosophy, history and literature. I have some art history, but painting is more family culture for me. My mother paints and my grandmother, all my sisters — so I didn’t come to Lee to study it.”
Ms. Sesler is a senior who grew up watching her mother, Cindy, paint murals for different people around Brentwood and Franklin. “She was just very talented. I would go with her and she never took a lot of shortcuts because she always wanted to the best she could. We could’ve have done something simpler, I think, but I think that is something I learned from her.”
Ms. Sesler has relatives in Cleveland and Chattanooga and though Cleveland was a summer home to her when she visited her grandparents, Francis, and the late Mason Sesler. She did not want to enroll at Lee University.
“My mom came to Lee for a little bit and I have family in Cleveland. I didn’t want to go to Lee originally, but I came and actually, it was a pretty campus,” she said. “That swayed me.”
Ms. Sesler has an opportunity to travel to India where she wants to do art therapy with women rescued from trafficking or work with orphans and widows.
Unknown to them, the two artists are continuing a connection between the university and the Historic Cleveland Neighborhood Association.
“Their communications students put the Historic Cleveland website together for us. They took our information, laid it out and it has really helped us,” Ms. Banks said.
Ms. Banks, who is Sesler’s neighbor and landlord, asked the student if she would be interested in gathering a couple of friends and painting the wall. Ms. Sesler, who specializes in oil paintings, thought of her friend Joy Ingels, an acrylic artist because that would have to be the medium for anything in the park because it is cheaper than oil and dries faster. Acrylic paint will also add texture and depth to the scene as layers are added on top of the base coat.
The painting is a mountain scene taken from different photos of the area.
“We thought we should incorporate the mountains we have here and bring them into the park, so we looked at different photos and meshed them together,” Sesler said.
Ms. Banks said it took the two young ladies no time at all to envision the mural.
“This is classic. They’re looking at their phone and looking at a scene of the Smoky Mountains and they’ve got it. They googled it and got their look. I was amazed when we went to the paint store they only need maybe five colors. They mix their own colors.”
While they were painting, the two young women had philosophical discussions about why would you paint a mural in a park and how does art impact the environment.
“We’ve been studying more abstract concepts like beauty, how it influences the atmosphere and how having a beautiful mural affects the local community, not just Cleveland, but specifically this park,” Ms. Ingels said. “I’ve been contemplating what the affects of a mural instead of having just a blank wall. It’s really closely connected with culture and valuing beauty.”
Young girls and boys come up to them while they paint and exclaim how pretty the mural is.
Ms. Ingels said, "When I was a kid, the things I saw as pretty that people were doing around me, those things are grafted into my idea of what I like visually and I was thinking of these little kids and I wonder if we are changing what they perceive as beautiful or how they view art.”
Ms. Banks said children will remember watching Ingels and Ms. Sesler paint the wall and when they child begin studying art in the sixth grade, they will remember the mountain scene and it will affect them.