Sunflowers consists of 130 tiles created by ceramics students at Chapel Hill High School

5000 Flowers - "Sunflowers" - The Final Chapter

April 25, 2003
In early 2002, four artists from Carrboro and Chapel Hill first heard about the 5000 Flowers Project and decided they wanted to make it happen here. Hunter Levinsohn, Anke Gassen, Debbie Meyer, and Jackie Helvey combined forces and put a call out to local artists, amateur and professional, to participate in an event commemorating the lives lost on September 11.

Victoria Sylvestre Response was incredible. Artist and teacher Holly Taylor-Novak became involved, and quickly got area schools on the bandwagon, encouraging art teachers to bring their students into the fold.

One teacher, Victoria Sylvestre at Chapel Hill High School, decided to get all of her ceramics students involved, and began a project that would be months in the making, the end result being a beautiful collaboration of tiles entitled Sunflowers.

Sylvestre's roots were first laid in North Carolina in 1982 when her parents, renowned ceramic artists Mary Lou and Ed Higgins, moved to Fearrington Village in Chatham County.

Victoria soon started at ECU, earning her BFA in 1987, her degree in Art Education in 1988, and her Masters in Fine Arts in 1991, all Magna Cum Laud. Along with her husband Marc, she apprenticed at Moravian Pottery and Tileworks in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. After teaching at Spirit Square in Charlotte, and 8 years at North Stanley in Albermarle, she found her way back to Chapel Hill with the job that she has had since 1999, ceramics teacher at Chapel Hill High.

Ceramic artists in front of Sunflowers Sylvestre decided to plan a project for 5000 Flowers that would have staying power, something that would be around for years as a reminder of the lives lost on 9-11. It has been her goal to create fine art for the school, and this melded perfectly into her long-range plan. She wanted a site-specific piece, and decided the best place to put it would be outside the counselor's office at Chapel Hill High.

She then began looking for the perfect model to recreate for the project, and found it in Sunflowers, a painting by Vincent Van Gogh.


Artists Alex Silfen and Lindsay Dubnanski work outside Planning for the creation of the piece was a long and arduous process, with many steps involved. After finding the piece, Victoria worked on it in Photoshop, printing it out in sections to make a paper map. This was then recreated as a full sized plastic map. Slabs of clay were rolled out and laid on top of the map, pressing down for a relief effect.

Each student chose a section to create as a tile. All 130 students participated in the creation. The tiles were smoothed, the backs numbered, and the glazing process began.

Striving for perfection, Sylvestre re-glazed the pieces a total of 6 times. Victoria used pieces of scrap wood to frame the completed project, truly a masterpiece. Victoria's husband, Marc Sylvestre, who is also a ceramic artist and currently a stay-at-home dad, also helped greatly throughout the entire process.

Venus de MiloWorks in progressBeasts of the Seas and an original piece designed by Victoria Sylvestre


Detail in Sunflowers This is not the first piece created by ceramics students at Chapel Hill High. Two bathroom doors are graced with works, Venus De Milo seen here, as well as a Matisse piece, Beasts of the Seas, and another piece designed by Sylvestre that can be seen in the halls of the school.


Work on Sunflowers began on September 11, 2002, and was completed on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2003. It was the longest running project involved with 5000 Flowers.


The inscription on Sunflowers reads:

"Van Gogh, whose life was full of despair, created the painting in 1888, writing that it was about joy, gratitude, and contentment. The ceramics students of Fall 2002 recreated Sunflowers as a mosaic to help us reflect on our sorrow of 9-11."

A fitting end for the 5000 Flowers Project.


5000 Flowers Project


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