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At A Major Kansas City Intersection, Pembroke Hill Catches Eyes With Stainless Steel Creation

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Viewed from inside the dining hall at Pembroke Hill, artist Jan Hendrix's stainless steel design can be viewed from a variety of angles creating multitudes of appearances. The piece was fabricated by Kansas City-based A. Zahner Company.

The A. Zahner Company has collaborated with artist Jan Hendrix on artwork around the world. A polished stainless steel piece inside Pembroke Hill School’s new dining hall marks their first in Kansas City.

The independent college preparatory school Pembroke Hill this week showed off an attention-grabbing aspect of a $52 million rebuilding project underway at its Ward Parkway campus.

The project, which began a year ago and is about 70% complete, includes a polished stainless steel artwork near the intersection of Ward Parkway and Shawnee Mission Parkway that will be visible to passers by.

“It pops,” said Bill Zahner, CEO of A. Zahner Company, which fabricated the piece. “When the sun came over it the other day, it just lit it up like somebody turned on a switch.”

Carlos Moreno
Bill Zahner talks about his company's role in incorporating artist Jan Hendrix's design into the dining hall at Pembroke Hill.

Improvements to the campus include a new dining hall, a new athletic center and an art gallery — renovations designed to boost performing arts, speech and debate, robotics and athletic programs.

“It's the largest project that the Pembroke Hill School has undertaken at any point in time,” said James Miller, the school’s chief financial officer, on Monday before a hard hat tour. The school has two campuses and serves about 1,200 students from preschool to 12th grade.

The 37-foot-high barrel-vaulted roof of the new dining hall, a 16,000 square foot building, features two art screens on each end, designed by Dutch artist Jan Hendrix. Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, Zahner fabricated the work with several layers of stainless steel, so light interplays with different reflectivity.

Carlos Moreno
Workers put the finishing touches on the 36-foot-tall art designed by artist Jan Hendrix at Pembroke Hill School.

The intent of the dining hall, said Pembroke Hill's James Miller, was to create a more “gracious” space for students to “come together and build community.”

“We set out to explore opportunities with him (Hendrix) without dictating any kind of a vision,” said Miller, “other than the need for it to be an art screen for windows.”

He added, “So it does block a little bit of the light ... but it also transforms the look and feel of the place in a very inspirational way.”

Artist Jan Hendrix, who’s based in Mexico City, said his art practice draws on landscape and nature.

“I hope they get lost in that window and they stay on a bit longer,” Hendrix said, about the student experience in the dining hall. “And maybe then they look at a leaf differently and ... it might be a start of studying nature a bit more.”

Carlos Moreno
Artist Jan Hendrix discusses the stainless steel artwork he designed that adorns Pembroke Hill's new dining hall.

A. Zahner Company has collaborated with Hendrix for about 15 years — in the United States, Mexico and Qatar. But CEO Bill Zahner said it’s their first project together in Kansas City.

“I’ve worked with him all over the world,” he said. “And now we can get a beautiful piece in town that everyone can enjoy.”

This week, Zahner said, they’ll be putting different metal pieces up to get “a feel for how the light reflects off them.” Because so much of the piece, he said, “is the way the light interplays with the material.”

As Zahner describes it: “It’s almost as if you’re inside a leaf, you know, the veins of the leaf and the artistic movement. You get this feeling of growth. I love this piece.”

The dining hall is scheduled to be completed in August, in time for the 2021-2022 school year. The campus project was funded by a capital campaign, which supports the costs of completing the master plan.

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