HOLLIDAYSBURG — Local artist Joel Koss and a group of anonymous volunteers have beautified the corner of Allegheny and Lindsay streets in honor of Koss’ disabled niece, 13-year-old Naomi Kathleen Caughey.
The Naomi Kathleen Garden, once a vacant lot, now houses a metal sculpture created by Koss. It rises 22 feet in the air and is made up of steel, carbon steel and stainless steel triangular beams. The beams are fixed in a concrete base accented with large black rocks. The room is surrounded by an area of red brick bounded by black concrete.
The lot has been landscaped, with three trees planted along its far boundary. Additional native Pennsylvania plantings are planned, as well as benches where people can sit and reflect.
The site is a tribute to Naomi, the daughter of Dr. Robert and Anne Caughey of Hollidaysburg, who has a rare genetic condition which has rendered her visually impaired and non-verbal. Initially given a short lifespan, her mother first conceived the idea of a park as a memorial, then moved on to creating a space in honor of Naomi.
Naomi enjoys sensory experiences at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, where she also attends a school for the blind, Anne Caughey said.
Due to her condition, Naomi exhibits characteristics similar to those of severe autism with “enclosure syndrome”. Still, Caughey said, Naomi understands what people say, has a sense of humor and a distinct personality. Naomi learned through the use of flash cards and solves algebra problems, her mother said.
Koss said he enjoys taking Naomi for car rides and they listen to music, including Naomi’s favorite song, Paul Simon, “You can call me Al.”
Siblings, Koss and Caughey hope residents will appreciate their efforts to beautify the space at the entrance to the borough.
It’s a labor of love that took more than two years to come to fruition, he said, from buying the land, creating the art design and organizing the volunteers.
Caughey said she hopes people will visit the garden, reflect, contemplate and celebrate the value of all life, regardless of its characteristics.
Koss, 49, of Hollidaysburg, said he didn’t title the steel structure because he preferred not to sway the viewer’s interpretation.
When Caughey looks at the metal sculpture, she sees an eternal flame.
That’s because, Koss said, several pieces of steel have been treated with a material to encourage it to rust. These rays resemble flames or the bottom of a bursting flower.
“The rust has flowed onto the concrete base, so it looks like a flower coming out of the ground,” said Koss.
The finishing touches will continue this fall with benches and other landscaping elements, Caughey said.
For the space to become a gathering place in the community would be ideal, the duo said.
For Caughey, the garden is extra special, not just for honoring her daughter, but because of all the anonymous volunteers who stepped in to make her idea a reality.