‘A symbol of interconnectedness’: Student-designed bench honors life and legacy of Thomas H. Corson

Designed by Arts Academy alumnus Yutetsu Horacek, the bench beautifies the Green Lake waterfront while sparking conversation and connection.

The Corson Bench

Between the Dance Center and Dow House, two abstract orange stitches frame stunning vistas of the Green Lake shoreline.

The sculpture is a compelling addition to the Green Lake waterfront revitalization and the culmination of the Tom Corson Memorial Bench Competition. Catalyzed in 2020 by current Interlochen Center for the Arts trustee Claire Corson Skinner, the competition challenged Arts Academy visual arts students to design a sculpture that doubles as a functional bench in memory of Claire’s father, Tom Corson. The winning work, designed by 2022 Arts Academy graduate Yutetsu Horacek (IAC 18-19, IAA 20-22), was dedicated on Oct. 19, 2023.

“It is so much more than a bench,” said Director of Visual Arts Mindy Zacher Ronayne during the dedication ceremony. “It's a bridge between art and functionality, a symbol of interconnectedness, and a tribute to the enduring legacy of Tom Corson and his family.”

Five decades of dedication

The Corson family–Tom, Dorthy (known as Dottie), and Claire–first discovered Interlochen during a family vacation. A few years later, in 1971, Claire attended the National Music Camp as a choir and drama student.

In the five decades since, the family has remained closely connected to the institution. Tom joined the Board of Trustees in 1973, serving as a member and chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee during the time Interlochen commissioned the campus master plan from Sasaki Associates. He retired from the board in 1997 after 24 years of dedicated service and was named a Life Trustee. Eleven years later, in 2017, Claire began her own tenure as an Interlochen trustee. Claire’s two great-nieces, Fiona and Lillian, have carried the family legacy into a new generation as Camp attendees.

Beyond their leadership as trustees, the Corsons have also supported Interlochen financially. In 1978, they gave the leadership gift for the construction of Corson Auditorium. They also created and endowed two scholarships: The Thomas H. and Dorthy S. Corson Scholarship and the Dorthy S. Corson and Lillie Belle Scheide Memorial Scholarship.

Following Dottie’s passing in 2016, the Corson family honored Dottie’s love for Green Lake with a gift to increase the beauty and accessibility of the Stone Hotel waterfront. The revitalized waterfront, known as Corson Park, features a wheelchair-accessible elevator to the beach, a promenade with lighted walkways, a lakeside cafe, and Dottie’s Deck, a paved seating area overlooking the lakefront. The park was dedicated in July 2017.

Claire Corson Skinner, Tom Corson, and Jim Skinner during the Corson Park dedication ceremony.

Claire Corson Skinner (left), Tom Corson (center), and Jim Skinner (Claire’s husband, right) pose with the Corson Park sign during the park’s dedication ceremony.

When Tom passed in late 2019, Claire worked with Interlochen’s Philanthropy team to create a fitting tribute to her father. The initial idea–a bench for Corson Park–soon evolved into a design competition for visual arts students.

Tying things together

The Tom Corson Memorial Bench Competition launched in Fall 2020. Claire opened the competition by meeting with Academy visual arts students and telling them about her father.

“Mrs. Skinner mentioned that her father was filled with positive energy, optimism, and happiness,” wrote winning designer Yutetsu Horacek in his competition proposal. “I kept that in mind while designing this project. I felt the need for this bench to become a place everyone could enjoy while honoring her father and reflecting his personality.”

Three finalists were selected prior to the Academy’s 2020 holiday break; final presentations were made in early January 2021. Horacek’s textile-inspired design was ultimately selected as the winning proposal.

“I was inspired by stitches and their ability to tie things together and bring everything closer,” Horacek wrote. “I wanted the bench to represent this metaphor and be a place where people would create stronger relationships during their time at Interlochen.”

As the winner of the competition, Horacek received a $500 cash prize. The Yokohama, Japan native currently studies at Central Saint Martins, a world-renowned arts and design college in London, England.

Exploring public art

Beyond honoring Tom’s legacy and beautifying the lakefront, the Tom Corson Memorial Bench Competition also sparked a new addition to the Visual Arts curriculum.

“The competition was our first significant public art endeavor, which inspired us to create a class dedicated to public art,” Ronayne said. “This class has generated many other projects around campus and in the community. The educational benefits of this experience provided an opportunity for all of us to learn about designing for fabrication, collaboration, and the importance of public art.”

Contemplation and conversation

Now open for use by students, staff, and guests, the bench exemplifies two key elements of the Interlochen experience: friendship and immersion in nature.

“This sculpture will serve as a constant source of conversation and interaction,” Ronayne said. “Art is not merely about aesthetics; it is about communication. It prompts us to engage with our surroundings, challenge our perceptions, and seek a deeper understanding of the world. In this sculpture, we find a catalyst for such dialogues: a conversation starter that will bring together generations of students, faculty, alumni, and visitors.”

Trey Devey, president of Interlochen Center for the Arts, echoed Ronayne’s thoughts about the bench’s lasting impact.

“The Corson family’s generosity enabled us to create Corson Park,” Devey said during his dedication remarks. “Our beautiful Dance Center and Dow House have further transformed the shores of Green Lake, and today, thanks to the Corson family, this new art bench further ties these two buildings to the waterfront, offering a place for quiet contemplation and creative reflection.”

“This bench is a work of art–and yet another way to bring our students and visitors into harmony with the lake shore.”