Gary Hinman standing alongside his sculpture with Bill Gordon, who made the base for the sculpture, installed it and contributed stonework. Photo courtesy of The Lawrence Times.

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in The Lawrence Times, which agreed to a story exchange with The Eudora Times. Both online newspapers rely on community donations to continue publishing, so please consider donating to both.

Gary Hinman has always been able to find something special in the objects right under our noses. 

At 5 years old, he started a collection in a candy box of tiny found objects. He picked up every bottle cap, shiny piece of glass or rusty nail that caught his eye. 

Now, as an artist, he has a garage full of artwork inspired by those types of objects. Some of his sculptures are made out of rusted abandoned tools he found at Clinton Lake or sticks he’s picked up. For Hinman, “junk” isn’t really junk. 

“I’ve always liked the idea of reusing things that have maybe gone to waste or have been discarded and trying to find visual interest in those things,” Hinman said. “That’s kind of the driving force behind my art.” 

Hinman had that concept in mind while working on different sculpting projects over the years. His interest in art goes back to taking out a pencil and paper for fun during his time in the Army and progressed into learning more about design and sculpting at Fort Hays State University. 

He went on to earn his education certificate and took his first teaching job in Australia before moving back to Kansas. He worked as an illustrator in Wichita for a year before a teaching job opened up in Eudora in 1979.

Now the town’s motto, “A Place to Grow,” shares a similarity with the name of his recent sculpting project, “Love to Grow,” which sits at the front of Eudora’s Giving Garden.

The garden is a community effort championed by Mary Kirkendoll last year. After a year of growth and a move to a new location on 20th Street near Eudora Baptist Church, Kirkendoll said she hopes to see the garden shift from a “take what you need, pay what you can” model to fully giving and donating to the community. It’s a busy time for the garden, with several events in its future, such as a garden workday with students this Wednesday, a bouquet workshop on Thursday and a pop-up market coming up Sept. 18.

“It’s really cool to see how it’s grown,” Kirkendoll said. “We’re finally getting a firm grasp on what our mission is. It was so fast with the COVID-related funds that we just had to dive in, and now we’re in this kind of beautiful strategic planning of what we dream this could be and trying to take action steps toward that.” 

When Kirkendoll reached out to Hinman about contributing an art piece to the garden, he jumped on it immediately, and she said the community response to the sculpture has been incredible so far. 

“It just brings a sense of awe and wonder and peace,” Kirkendoll said. “Being able to sort of wander around the flower garden and have a beautiful art piece, I think just elevates it even more.” 

Hinman admires the work that Kirkendoll and volunteers put into the Giving Garden, and he said he was more than willing to donate his art for it.

The sculpture Hinman designed includes contributions from several people he cares about. His good friend Bill Gordon designed the base for the sculpture and installed it. Friends Alan Ott and Matt Bova contributed welding and materials. And the butterfly that sits in the middle of the sculpture’s branch is a nod to his wife, Crystal Hinman, who is a member of local nonprofit organization Monarch Watch.

And the sculpture isn’t Hinman’s only artistic contribution to Eudora. Both the face of Eudora High School’s cardinal mascot and the city’s logo are his designs, approved in 1998 and 2013, respectively. He also spent more than 30 years at Eudora High School teaching just about every art form, from pottery and printmaking to painting and graphic design. 

During that time, Hinman said the art department saw a lot of success and almost always placed well at annual art contests. Although Hinman doesn’t like to think of contests as a way to measure artistic success, he liked to watch students be motivated to create. That was one of the best parts. 

“It was a rewarding career for me,” Hinman said. “Seeing them beaming with joy really makes your day. That’s one of the things I guess I kind of miss, interacting with kids and seeing their success and pride in what they’ve done.” 

The 10 years since he retired from Eudora High School have involved projects big and small, from this sculpture to a collection of tiny stick sculptures out of driftwood from Clinton Lake.

Hinman said he’s is proud of the artwork he’s made over the years, but that’s not all. Nothing is quite like the pride he feels for his kids, he said, but he’s also proud of his years of teaching with a faculty at Eudora High School that continues to be successful.

He’s proud of the friends he’s made in the community during his time in Eudora, and he’s happy to be one of many people in the community who have contributed to the Giving Garden, a project that he knows will benefit people in town who need it. 

“I’ve read enough in recent history to know that it’s important to be happy with what you do and be proud of yourself and to consider your success,” Hinman said. “I guess I’ve got a lot to be proud of.” 

Lucie Krisman is a former reporter for The Eudora Times.

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