Words and quotes around Grady enliven environment


Photo by Margot McLaughlin

WISE WORDS: Quotes posted in Grady hallways inspire students amid the blur of a busy day. Art teacher John Brandhorst came up with the concept of scattering various words around the school to encourage more observation of surroundings in students.

The bell rings. Students shuffle through the crowded halls from class to class, keeping their heads down. They may not notice the quotes at first glance, but that’s part of their beauty. These words that line the halls and are placed between the steps of the staircases serve as unsung inspiration for Grady students.

These thought-provoking quotes are the brainchild of the Grady art teacher, John Brandhorst. When he lived in Seattle, he took the bus to work and at his bus stop the words “I had a very interesting journey and there are many ways I could tell you about it,” were written going up the steps.

That image really stuck with him. When the Grady renovation in 2005 yielded bare, undecorated halls as “a giant blank canvas,” Brandhorst knew he had to bring that public art and creativity to Grady.

“I like the idea of the building being an architectural document or an architectural diary that records the lives and thoughts of people who go through it and not just the building that we pass into and out of like a bus stop,” Brandhorst said.

The quotes go from something as serious as the poem “Invictus,” which was made famous by South African anti-Apartheid visionary Nelson Mandela, to something as light-hearted as a “yo’ mama” joke. Brandhorst specifically chooses different types of quotes so that everyone can find something that sticks out to them.

“Some quotes are pretty abstract, and there are some that are more straightforward,” Brandhorst said. “I try to have a wide variety —quotes from men, quotes from women, quotes from all corners of the Earth.”

The intention behind these quotes is to make students stop and think as well as potentially guide them in looking at the world through a different perspective. Some students find the quotes intriguing and look for them as they make their daily commute through the halls.

“I just think they’re really cool,” sophomore Erin Taylor said. “It’s a little Easter egg when you’re walking through the halls going to class. Every now and then, you’ll see a new one in a weird spot, and you’ll think ‘ooh that looks cool.’”

Other students haven’t really noticed the quotes; to an untrained eye they might not pop out. Students admire the motivation behind the quotes, but the message doesn’t resonate with all.

“Honestly, I don’t really pay that much attention to them,” freshman Annie Laster said. “I’ve seen them and read them, but they kind of just slipped my mind.”

Regardless of students’ take on the quotes, Brandhorst urges students to look up from the monotony of everyday life to see the unexpected. He enjoys finding new locations to add more “ironic, intellectual, philosophical, funny and poignant” quotes throughout the school.

“They should pay attention to their local environment,” Brandhorst said. “There are little hidden treasures everywhere, if you stop and look.”

Art and fashion teacher Valerie Williams also sees the merits of the public art. Williams so motivated by a quote by one of her favorite authors, Afro-Futurist Octavia Butler, that she asked Brandhorst to have it put up on the wall. It goes, “In order to rise from its own ashes, a phoenix first must burn.” The quote is now tucked away on E100. She’s glad she did it.

“It’s like getting to see the thing that inspires you every day,” Williams said. “It’s like getting a little reminder.”

Anyone can talk to Brandhorst if they have an idea for a quote that they’d like to share with the whole Grady community. Brandhorst recently received a new shipment of vinyl so he can add to the expanding collection of quotes. 

“Some are way up high, you have to know they’re there,” Brandhorst said. “Some will hit you in the face when you’re walking down the hallway. I’ll always try to be surprising.”