Sunflower project to celebrate women’s suffrage

By TRINITY CAREY

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Sunflowers began to symbolize more than summer when Kansas suffragists adopted the state’s symbol for their campaign in 1867. Yellow then became the color of the movement and suffragists were encouraged to wear the color and flower to show their support, according to the National Museum of American History.

The year 2020 will mark 100 years of women’s right to vote in the United States. To commemorate the arduous struggle, local artist Mary Wright and RISE UP, Recognizing the Importance of women’s Suffrage Everywhere, are working with community individuals to create sunflowers made of different mediums, such as steel, which will line roadways throughout the 15 counties of the Upper Peninsula.

“It’s to celebrate the efforts of the women of the past,” Wright said. “To look at where we are now and to see that there is still work to be done.”

Wright is known throughout the U.P. as a community artist, most famously for her blue and white painted benches to honor FinnFest.

When Wright learned of the symbolism of sunflowers to early suffragists, she immediately began to think of a way to honor the women’s rights movement through a large art installation and so became the Sunflower Project.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I want to have sunflowers growing from Copper Harbor to the bridge from Wisconsin to the bridge, M-28 and from the Sault to the bridge,'” Wright said. “When you think about the significance of the sunflower, we need sun in order to have life on Earth, and furthermore we need women to have human life on Earth.”

While she is encouraging communities to plant live sunflowers, she knew the annual plant wouldn’t stand the summer season between the birds and the deer. Wright contacted Rick Kauppila, owner of U.P. Fabricating Co. Inc., who has supplied her with steel for previous projects to design prototypes of the sunflowers. What he created and David Aro painted, Wright describes as “dynamite.” The few steel sunflowers that have been made so far are currently planted in front of the 5th & Elm Coffee House in Houghton.

“The more exciting thing is that we are working with Mike Prusi, who is the wonderful (aide to the) governor of Michigan, to identify a steel supply business that will donate all the steel necessary to supply the vision that I outlined … Michigan is going to be loaded with sunflowers,” Wright said.

Wright hopes all U.P. communities will get involved either by planting live sunflowers or making their own from different mediums with the help of local youth, labor unions and gardening clubs. She hopes by the end of the project there will be 1,000 or more live or crafted sunflowers throughout the U.P.

“Our goal really is to have the major highways laced with these charming flowers,” Wright said. “It’ll be a major art installation. But when you see them, every county in the Upper Peninsula, and there are 15 of them, will have these splendid, joyful, innocent flowers.”

Various celebrations of women’s suffrage will take place from March through October of next year and a RISE UP-sponsored parade will take place Aug. 15, 2020, in Houghton.

For more information on upcoming events or how to get involved in the Sunflower Project, contact Mary Wright at 906-231-4231.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is photos@miningjournal.net.

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