Teen leads effort to paint a sunflower in Westhampton center as a show of solidarity with Ukraine

  • Alice Jenkins, 17, led the effort to paint a sunflower in support of Ukraine in the center of Westhampton, seen with Assistant Fire Chief Steve Holt. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Volunteers helped paint a sunflower on the hillside of the center of Westhampton on  Sunday, Oct. 9. The sunflower is meant as a show of support for Ukraine. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Volunteers helped paint a sunflower on the hillside of the center of Westhampton last Sunday, Oct. 9. The sunflower is meant as a show of support for Ukraine. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2022 8:57:20 PM

WESTHAMPTON — A symbol of peace and solidarity has blossomed on the hillside of a Hampshire County town.

A week ago, a group of 10 volunteers gathered in Westhampton’s center to paint a large sunflower on the pavement in front of the Town Hall and Westhampton Congregational United Church of Christ. The seeds for the artistic expression were sown by 17-year-old Alice Jenkins, who wanted to show support for Ukraine as the war with Russia continues.

“When the war first broke out, I felt so helpless as did so many others, so as a community we began to find little ways to help a cause that was just so out of our control,” Jenkins said.

As a member of the Social Justice Club at Hampshire Regional High School, the Westhampton teenager helped with a fundraiser which directly benefited Ukraine, but wanted to do more.

This past spring, she came up with the idea to paint a sunflower in the center of town. At that time, sunflowers were popping up in support of the country all over the world — in emojis via social media, in fields in Utah, and even on the sleeve of the first lady Jill Biden’s dress.

In addition to being Ukraine’s national flower, the country typically produces one-third of the world’s sunflower oil, which accounts for nearly half of global exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Even though I came up with the idea in the spring, I think the timing of this is important because the war in Ukraine has not gone away, they haven’t given up, and this sunflower is a reminder to everyone who sees it that we can’t give up,” Jenkins said.

At the same time of trying to get town approval for the painting of the sunflower, Jenkins was also organizing a protest in Northampton, rallying for women’s rights and encouraging others to cast their ballots next month for candidates who support those rights.

Her grandmother, Priscilla Miller, helped push her sunflower painting party forward by communicating with the town’s Highway Department and Fire Department. She also received approval from the Select Board.

With ancestral heritage linking her to abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone, who was the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree, Miller said there’s no doubt her granddaughter is making her lineage proud.

“I am so encouraged by the enthusiasm of the young people and their drive,” Miller said.

Jenkins hosted the rally in Northampton on Saturday, Oct. 8 — which was attended by more than 150 people — and the painting of the sunflower in her hometown the following day. Before painting, Jenkins said her grandmother went out with Westhampton artist Mary Montague to create an outline of the sunflower to make the project more all-inclusive, no matter what peoples’ art capabilities were.

The sunflower was filled in with water-based paint.

“People came and went throughout the day. It happened right after a church service so lots of different people stopped in to provide insight, materials, or even just motivating words,” Jenkins said.

“It was really a full community effort and I’m so grateful that I live in a town where not only is this kind of activism is supported, but where there are such amazing people to help bring my crazy ideas to life, even when I had other events to attend in the afternoon.”

Among those joining in on the effort was Audrey Antosz, who was particularly impressed with Jenkins.

“While it was enjoyable to create the sunflower together, it is a heartbreaking reason that caused Ali to come up with this idea,” Antosz said. “Alice Jenkins is an inspiring young person. I’m excited to watch her grow and learn, and can’t wait to see what she will do next.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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