Triptychs of the Historic Mill Made by WMU Grad Student

Alicia Risk
Alicia Risk with pictures of her photo montage triptychs that she created for Mill tours. Photo by Jef Rietsma.

By Jef Rietsma

The task of redeveloping the former Simpson Paper Company has involved input from a spectrum of people representing many different backgrounds.

An unlikely but beneficial source proved to be a 22-year-old Western Michigan University (WMU) student whose contribution netted her college credit. Alicia Risk, a Hastings native, was held in high regard by a professor who supervises her area of study: theater design and technical production with an emphasis on costume design.

Her goal is to study costume history to become a fashion historian.

How does fashion history tie in with the long-abandoned mill?

“My supervising professor frequently gets emails from people looking for a student’s help with a project of some sort in exchange for history credits,” she said. The professor received an email from two Paper City representatives “asking for some help. There was a historical component to it, and that’s how I became involved.”

It was project manager Jackie Koney and John Kern, community outreach manager, who had contacted Risk’s professor back in early 2017.

Risk would go on to work for Koney and Kern over the summer of 2017, eventually creating several triptychs. Risk explained a triptych is a three-panel visual that, in this case, shows photos of the mill in its past and present states. Its future is presented with computer-aided artist renderings. The three visuals are shown from roughly the same perspective.

With an abundance of photos available through the Vicksburg Historical Society, Risk was able to visualize more of the mill in its past state and learn an intriguing history lesson as well.

“I fell in love with the building the first time I came to the property. It was April 2017, and I knew right away I wanted to be a part of this project,” she said. “So, I immersed myself in it. I spent all sorts of time at the Historical Society and looked at hundreds of photographs. It’s an absolutely magnificent building with such a rich history in Vicksburg.”

The triptychs Risk created have been integral when mill officials meet with parties interested in touring the former plant or during formal presentations. Risk didn’t stop with the art work. Earlier this year, she developed a script that helps people who lead tours of the site.

Risk estimates she has invested more than 200 hours into her mill-related work and for her persistence, she received three credits as she pursues her master’s degree. She would like to do some sort of audio-video project that involves interviewing people who are or were affiliated with the mill.

“Anybody who takes the time to learn more about the history of the mill is just as impressed about it as I am.I mean, I didn’t grow up here and I knew nothing about it until two years ago,” she said. “Now, I feel like I have gained so much, I’m a better person for knowing as much as I do about the mill and I can’t wait to see the mill in its next life.”

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