The Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy recently honored a very deserving local resident with a new art installation.

Kathleen Tinsley Ownby, who grew up in Brays Oaks, has served since 1990 as executive director of SPARK, the neighborhood parks program founded by her mother, the late Houston Council Member Eleanor Tinsley.

Thanks substantially to Ownby’s fundraising and organizational efforts, Houston has added a huge amount of parks and greenspace.

The Spark School Park Program is celebrating its 40th year. Originally an initiative to create more park space, the idea was to use Houston Independent School District (HISD) land to create play spaces.

The program has grown to several school districts and has included art installations since 1991. Exposing children to artwork was important to Ownby, and the SPARK program gives children a chance to engage with it in their communities. Many of the art installations, such as tile work, were created by children.

Ownby has grown the initiative to include 18 school districts and four charter schools across the Houston region. Collaborating with school leaders, community members, landscape architects and local artists, SPARK has created unique parks open to the community after school hours, on weekends, and holidays. Over $25 million has been raised and today there are 165 SPARK Parks.

A plan for an additional 100-plus parks in local “park deserts” is moving into its final phase of fundraising.

Spark Park artist Rosalinda R. Toro designed a special art installation for the Willow Waterhole to honor Ownby’s ambitious work. The installation titled “Flowers for a Lady” was dedicated at a ceremony on Oct. 23, when Ownby received a mayoral proclamation declaring it Kathleen Tinsley Ownby Day throughout the city.

Now adorning the Willow Waterhole park in a prominent section at the Schwartz Gazebo, the installation is a set of three sculptures featuring round, concrete, painted pillars with stained glass butterflies sitting atop each one. Floral designs are painted on the columns.

“The Conservancy is so pleased to have been chosen by the Ownby family as the site for the installation of the beautiful sculptures,’’ said Bill Burhans, president of Willow Waterhole Greenway Conservancy. “They will be a huge attraction at the Greenway.  Honoring Kathleen for developing over 200 parks through the SPARK program is a legacy to be appreciated by all Houstonians.  She has also been an influential advocate for the development of the Greenway.  The Conservancy is so proud to be associated with her and artist Rosalinda Toro.”

The ceremony included a presentation by the artists and a performance of three songs by the Tinsley Elementary School Choir.

Ownby was thrilled that family and friends raised the money for this sculpture in her honor.

“They approached friends and family with this idea to honor me and there were 50 different contributors,” Ownby said. “I am so very honored. Family came in from all over, and all of the people who contributed were there for the special day.”

The art installation is similar to a piece Toro created for Metro and which Ownby always admired.

“There are mosaics at the top of the pillars, and my daughter Emily and my grandchildren were able to work on that mosaic portion, which makes it that much more special,” Ownby said.

Visit the park at 5300 Dryad in the Brays Oaks Management District.

— by Arlene Nisson Lassin