(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
A large crowd gathered inside Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland today to remember former student Tracey Sparling and to dedicate Pedal Garden — a work of functional art that doubles as the school’s main bike parking area.
After opening remarks by PNCA President Tom Manley, the crowd — which included Tracey’s mom Sophie, her dad Lee, and her aunt Susan Kubota — heard from two speakers, each of whom offered a different perspective on the project and what it means to the school and the community.
With a photo of Tracey on an easel on stage beside him, PNCA alum and board member Jean-Pierre Veillet, told the story of Pedal Garden. He shared that when he first heard about Sparling’s death he got in touch with PNCA’s Dean of Students, Michael Hall, to ask, “How can I do something?” Then, 11 days later, he continued, “Brett Jarolimek too would be lost to the PNCA community, on his bicycle.”
Ultimately, Veillet continued, he felt it was the “immense responsibility” of the PNCA community to remember Tracey and Brett in the only way they knew how: “We wanted to make something. That is what we do.”
In his remarks today, Veillet shared more about what the community created…
“The Pedal Garden is a new beginning, it is fertile soil, another place to launch forward from, a place to for students to network their caring and creativity into the fabric of our community…
Tracey Sparling’s passing caused even those who didn’t know her great grief… We share our respect for her and we continue to be fearless in the boundaries of our creative hearts because the cause is so great.”
After Veillet spoke, a current PNCA student shared his thoughts. Francesco Cupolo didn’t know Tracey; but he did know her way of moving around the city. Cupolo bikes across the river to the PNCA studio on the east side several times a day. He told the crowd that he moved to Portland for three main reason: “I wanted a dog, a garden, and I wanted a bike to be my sole mode of transportation.”
Cupolo came to Portland in large part because of our bike-friendly vibe. He shared today that the Pedal Garden, “speaks to that same commitment to establishing supportive infrastructure for cyclists that I noticed before enrolling — and it does so in a meaningful way, that touches my heart.”
After the speeches, the crowd moved outside where the lead fabricator of the Pedal Garden, David Boekelheide, presented PNCA President Tom Manley with a plaque. Boekelheide then hung his own bicycle on one of the flower hooks.
After the crowds dispersed, I chatted with PNCA Dean of Students Michael Hall. He referred to Pedal Garden as, “Art meets utility meets memory.”
And Lee Sparling, Tracey’s dad, said it was nice to see so many people show up today. “But it’s also bittersweet,” he added, “This is all bringing back some memories that are difficult to deal with.”
Lee’s comment reminded me how important it is that we never forget October 2007. As budgets cutbacks loom and a transition is taking place in City Hall, our city’s commitment to safe streets cannot waver. While Pedal Garden is a beautiful monument to a person and a tragedy that touched many of us deeply, I think J.P. Veillet put it best when he said during remarks today, “The Pedal Garden is built of lasting materials, humble intentions, and true heart. Please remember the true lives and true losses that it took to make this place.”
This is a wonderful tribute to Tracy; the photo of the Sparling family really says it all. It’s heartening to see how PNCA continues to honor her memory by creating positive spaces and experiences for its current students. I’m grateful to Tracy’s family for how much they’ve given to the bicycling community in Portland after their personal tragedy.
I know it was hard for Tracy’s family to think of the tragedy all over again, but I am sure they appreciate the beautiful art garden that gives goodness to a sad event.