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Ghost bike tribute to Kalamazoo bicyclists featured at Grand Rapids' ArtPrize

“Five” is a sculpture, but also a memorial and a tribute – one designed to honor and remember a group of cyclists, most from Richland, Michigan, who were mowed down by a drugged-up driver in June 2016. (WWMT)

"Five."

It’s the name of 6-foot-tall bicycle outside the First Congregational Church in Grand Rapids.

“Five” is a sculpture, but also a memorial and a tribute – one designed to honor and remember a group of cyclists, most from Richland, Michigan, who were mowed down by a drugged-up driver in June 2016.

Five of those nine cyclists died that day.

Painted white, the sculpture is also known as the ghost bike – and it sports five large, vibrant red flowers, representing those who died.

Created by South Haven artist Kathy Kreager, “Five” has been entered in ArtPrize, a 19-day international art competition and exhibition held annually in Grand Rapids. More than $500,000 in prizes are awarded during the event, which this year runs Sept. 19 to Oct. 7. This is Kreager’s first entry as a featured artist.

Kreager, who lived in Richland for 20 years, said she hopes her sculpture’s entry in ArtPrize will raise awareness about cycling safety – as well as honor the people she knew who were killed that day in the Kalamazoo bike tragedy.

“I find that I'm still emotional when I talk about this,” Kreager said. “Everybody kind of knows everybody, and so I knew several of the people who were involved in this accident.”

Kreager said “it was impossible not to be deeply moved by the senselessness of it, and by the sudden, unexplainable loss for the loved ones and the community.”

A similar bicycle sculpture, created by a different artist, is installed permanently at the site of the crash, on North Westnedge Avenue in Kalamazoo. It includes five ghost bikes.

The ArtPrize entry “Five” is made of metal, and stretches 11-feet-long.

Kreager, a cyclist herself and an artist who has created award-winning sculptures, said she was compelled to create it.

The tragedy “had such an impact on me, as it did on everyone in the Kalamazoo area,” she said. “And I was just so compelled to do something to support the family members and honor the victims.”

Kreager, in 2006, was awarded the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation Emerging Artist grant by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo. Her sculptures appear in Bronson Hospital, in Kalamazoo, in Munson Hospital, in Traverse City, and in several locations in South Haven, as well as in private collections.

“I created the five flowers to represent the beautiful lives that were lost on that day,” Kreager said. “It was important to me that the flowers be vibrant in color and the focal point, as were those lives. My hope in exhibiting 'Five' is that the victims will be honored and remembered.”

She also said she’d be honored if the sculpture found a permanent home in the Kalamazoo area.

The driver of the truck that plowed into the cyclists, Charles Picket, was convicted of five counts of second-degree murder, five counts of operating while intoxicated causing death and four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury.

The five who died were Tony Nelson, 73, Larry Paulik, 74, and Melissa Fevig Hughes, 42, all of Kalamazoo, and Debra Bradley, 53, and Suzanne Sippel, 56, both of Augusta.

Four others survived, but saw long roads to recovery.

“Being able to talk about the story behind this, to educate people about that and … get them thinking about the impacts on the community’ is what inspired Kreager, she said. “Because things can change in a heartbeat after one dumb decision.”


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