When John Acorn was in elementary school, he and his classmates would get their graded tests back from their teachers every Friday so that they could take them home and share them with their parents.
“I have to admit I was a very good student,” he laughs. “I loved going to school, so I had no reason to dispose of [my tests].” But that wasn’t the case for all of Acorn’s friends. On the walk home from school Friday afternoon, “the guys — mostly guys since the girls were brighter than the boys — would fold their tests into paper airplanes because they weren’t going to take them home to show their parents, that’s for sure,” Acorn says. “We lived on a street which backed up onto a cemetery, and as we would walk home up the hill, the guys would zip their airplanes over the fence into the cemetery.”
This lighthearted childhood memory was the inspiration behind “Friday Flyers,” the name of the six oversized, aluminum paper airplanes scattered across Clemson’s campus. Some are easy to spot, while others lie half-hidden. The planes were originally part of a larger art project Acorn was developing in 1996 when he was the chair of the art department at Clemson.
“Jim Barker was the dean of the College of Architecture when I was with the art department,” Acorn says. “Along with a number of other people, he was very interested in having artwork on campus. Art in public places was a very hot issue a couple of decades back when the National Endowment for the Arts was sponsoring projects all over the United States.” The original project included various objects related to childhood that would be placed all over campus, but when it wasn’t feasible financially, Acorn suggested stripping the project down to the paper airplanes.
Each airplane’s location and position on campus is as if it were thrown from the Hendrix Student Center, “sort of landing as if they just by chance earned that place.” As a remnant of Acorn’s own childhood, the paper airplanes represent the transition between youth and adulthood, symbolizing themes like chance, discovery and progress.
“They indicate the idea of leaving behind your early years, and now you’re off to something brand new and exciting — you know, the college experience.”