camp stool project

Executive director of Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, La Ruchala Murphy's upcycled stool put up for auction for the Camp Stool Project. (Courtesy/Wingate Downs)

Around the campus of the Jennie Arnold Edwards summer camp are round wooden stools. About two feet high, they provide places for girls to sit while doing arts and crafts, waiting for riflery or singing. To reach up and make their bunk beds, campers pull the stools across cabin floors and stand atop them.

The camp, which was operated by the Young Women’s Christian Organization, closed in 2008. YWCO Chief Executive Officer Kitty Meyran said the organization still owned the land the camp had operated on until 2016.

Meyran, who attended the camp and worked as a counselor there when she was younger, said being at camp was an opportunity for many people to learn, grow and forge lifelong friendships.

“The stools remind the people who went to our camp about all those experiences,” Meyran said.

When YWCO sold the land, it brought the stools with them. Meyran said she wanted to find something special to do with the stools but didn't have an opportunity to organize an event until this year.

Now, 22 of the stools have been transformed into pieces of art each made by a local artist, many of whom are part of the YWCO and University of Georgia communities, as part of the YWCO’s 2020 fall fundraiser: the Camp Stool Project.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, YWCO was unable to hold an in-person event for its fundraiser. Meyran said she saw this as an opportunity to revisit the camp stools, and YWCO reached out to artists to turn them into artworks for the Camp Stool Project.

The fundraiser, which ran from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20, was an online silent auction of the decorated stools.

Before and during the auction, the decorated stools were on display at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation in Watkinsville.

La Ruchala Murphy is the executive director of OCAF as well as one of the artists who decorated a stool for the project. She said she believes in the YWCO’s mission and was happy to work with them both to donate an art piece and to display all the stools at OCAF.

“I jumped on the bandwagon because I really wanted to be part of their mission,” Murphy said.

Murphy said she spent several weeks working on her stool, adding pieces of papier mache each day. She chose to use papier mache because it was therapeutic to her, and because she works with paper and collage in her other art.

Murphy said about 10-15 people came to see the stools on display each day the exhibition was open. Since galleries are limited to how many people they can admit at a time due to COVID-19, she said she was glad OCAF was able to show the stools in-person.

YWCO Chief Operating Officer Becky Galvin, who headed the Camp Stool Project, said OCAF’s support was a great resource to have for the fundraiser. The proceeds from the Camp Stools Project will support the YWCO’s Summer Girls Club for summer 2021.

The Girls Club is an educational and recreational summer program for low-income girls in the Athens community. Galvin said the program combines summer camp activities like arts and crafts, swimming and field trips with daily educational support.

Galvin said many of the girls don’t have a strong educational background, so they struggle academically. The Girls Club works with teachers to help bridge that gap.

“All of the research shows that children that are not on age-level reading by the time they are in third grade are going to struggle all through school,” Galvin said.

She said this is why the YWCO brings in teachers and works with the community to help engage the girls in reading. The Girls Club is also an opportunity for the girls to find role models in successful women.

“We really try and bring strong women, successful women, in to meet with them,” Galvin said. “They can see people that look like them, women who look like them, who are successful.”

The Camp Stool Project brought in almost $10,000 for the Girls’ Club. Meyran said she expected the event would raise around $5,000, and that the event exceeded her expectations.

While the YWCO does intend to hold in-person fundraisers again once it becomes safe to do so, Galvin said she may consider holding other fundraisers similar to the Camp Stool Project as well.

Galvin said she received positive feedback from the artists who decorated stools, so while the YWCO doesn’t have any more stools to repeat the exact same event in future years, she is open to finding another medium to work with the arts community again.

Meyran said she finds it fitting that the stools, which represent fond memories of time at summer camp, are now works of art that can brighten people’s day.