Over the past 15 years, artists at ATCO, a training center for adults with developmental disabilities, have created and sold about 24,000 Passion Flowers, the official flower of Athens made from recycled metal printing plates from The Messenger. Now, with a new license to create the official Ohio State University Buckeye flower, production is expected to go into overdrive.
“We anticipate producing 24,000 every year with the OSU flower,” said Wayne Savage, studio coordinator for Passion Works Studio, the retail store where many of the flowers and other items are sold.
The license gives the agency permission to use the team colors to create not just the metal flower, but also pinwheels, boutineers and paper flowers. They can also use a label marking it an official collegiate product. The products are sold through OSU’s e-stores, Passion Works’ website and studio. Eventually, Savage hopes to have a presence in all the OSU Buckeye stores.
The new work will mean new jobs for people both with and without disabilities. Savage and business manager Laurie Gregg have increased their production staff to 20 workers and expanded their work space. It also means getting closer to the operation’s goal — to be financially stable.
Right now, ATCO and Passion Works receive support from the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The board helps cover educational programs, salaries and rent and utilities for the studio in uptown Athens.
“We want to be able to stand on our own,” Gregg said. “We really believe the Buckeye flower is going to do that for us.”
During a recent visit to ATCO, where the bulk of the flower is manufactured, Buckeye flowers scattered the view, hanging on the walls and sitting on countertops, in pieces ready to be assembled.
Worker Jim Gillespi drew his favorite doodle — a flower — on one of the red and gray aluminum sheets. His piece is one of many that will be later cut into a shape of a petal and assembled to create the unique piece of art. The entire process to create one flower, which involves at least 10 steps including washing, painting, designing and cutting, takes about three weeks.
“We take folks with disabilities and show them they have a lot of abilities,” Savage said. “(OSU) loved our story as much as our flower.”
With the partnership with OSU and Ohio University (Passion Works artists have created the official Bobcat flowers for about a year) Savage and Gregg see the potential to expand even more. But for now, they’ll focus on their current project.
“It won’t be long before you’ll be watching an OSU game and you’ll see everybody in the audience holding one of our pinwheels,” Gregg said with a laugh.