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‘Spread kindness’ art project memorializes younger brother

Arts Jun 12, 2020
A woman poses for a picture in a graduation cap and gown
A woman poses for a picture in a graduation cap and gown

KOKOMO, Ind. – A family tragedy could have derailed Frannie Ruedin’s final year of college.

Nobody would have blamed her for taking time off after her 13-year-old brother, Walker, passed away in an accident two weeks before the start of her senior year. Instead, it made her more determined to finish strong.

“He always said it was his dream to play basketball at IU Kokomo because he was so proud of me for going to school there,” said Ruedin, from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee.

“I knew he would want me to go back and finish.”

As part of completing her degree in New Media, Art, and Technology (NMAT), she had to develop a thesis exhibition and knew it was the perfect opportunity to remember Walker.

“I wanted to honor the immense impact he left at 13, of how kind he was, and how talented he was, artistically and athletically,” she said. “I had this vision of not making it a memorial, but a message for the community.”

One thing that struck her in the hard days after Walker’s death was how many commented on how kind he had been, how he never acted angry, and wasn’t mean to anyone around him.

“I wanted to take that idea and implement it into a project where the community understands it’s about someone who isn’t here anymore, but it’s also about being kind to one another,” Ruedin said.

Her focus in NMAT was on digital illustration, so that’s where she started, creating an illustration of her brother. Then, she made vinyl cut outs of the words “spread kindness,” placing them on a white wall for a subtle effect. One of the most personal touches was taking phrases from social media, letters, and emails she and her family received about Walker, using a projector to have them fade in and out on the wall.

As a takeaway item, she hand-made paper embedded with forget-me-not flower seeds for viewers to take home and plant.

“This ties back into my hope that Walker won’t be forgotten,” Ruedin said. “The paper is biodegradable and has the spread kindness message on it. It has instructions to plant it in the ground, so the seeds will blossom, leaving his mark of spreading kindness in one’s life.”

The work was therapeutic for her and it was satisfying to see the completed work, even if it had to be displayed virtually because of Covid-19. She plans to exhibit it publicly in the future so people can see it and pick up the flower seed paper. Sadly, she’s adding another illustration to it, after losing a young cousin shortly before the end of the semester.

“It was something I needed to do, going back to school in such an early stage of grief,” she said, adding that she was grateful for the free counseling services offered for students on campus. “I dedicated all of my time to this project. Once I set it up, it was so emotional, not only to see my vision come to life, but to know it was dedicated to my little brother.”

Ruedin appreciates the support she received on campus, not only from the counseling center, but from NMAT faculty and University Information Technology Services, where she was a student worker.

“Everyone has been so helpful with the challenges that have been thrown my way,” she said. “I was so supported, which allowed me to work, but also to deal with everything. They became my family away from home.”

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

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