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Good fences make good neighbors, poet Robert Frost wrote. Artist Cary Thrall puts a fresh spin on that sentiment by using decorative fences to build friendships and stronger communities.

Thrall’s project, Linking Fences 2019, is bringing together Black Hills residents to weave landscape designs into 6-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide fences. Volunteers will use pre-cut, recycled denim to create the art installations in Lead, Spearfish and Lower Brule.

This is Thrall’s fourth community art-installation project in western South Dakota. Her vision is to find fun, innovative ways to encourage people to get to know and care about their neighbors.

“I really believe so fully when people are supported and taken care of and allowed to grow, you’re healthier and happier and able to do more and offer more (in return),” Thrall said. “I want to offer people a sense of belonging and working together and getting involved and being creative and seeing that what they’re doing is important work, even though it might be a small piece of the whole.”

The fences’ South Dakota landscape designs will weave together the three communities. In Lower Brule, which is near the Missouri River, the fence will depict the Black Hills. In Lead and Spearfish, which have stunning views of the Black Hills, the Missouri River will be featured in the final fence design, Thrall said.

“Each community will be connected to each other and to the project, not only through participation, but through a visual story linking each site through landscape imagery. It’s all connected,” Thrall said. “We’re all strands in the final piece.”

Thrall has been collecting donations of denim since January for Linking Fences 2019. She estimates the equivalent of about 300 pairs of jeans will be used in the fences.

Traditional beadwork designs from artists in Lower Brule and Herrick will be enlarged and used on materials that hold the woven imagery onto the ends of the fences, Thrall said. The art installations should last at least three years.

Community celebrations to introduce the completed fences will be from 2-4 p.m. Saturday in Lower Brule; 2-4 p.m. Saturday, June 29, in Spearfish; and 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, in Lead.

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Thrall is a second-grade teacher at Lower Brule Elementary School. She also operates CAT Scratch Studios (Creative Art and Therapies), a traveling business in which she combines her interests as an artist, designer, and yoga and meditation instructor.

Growing up in Lead, Thrall learned to cherish her small town in which neighbors knew and looked out for each other. Thrall is trying to recapture and rebuild some of that through her community art installations.

“I started to notice we were not as connected as we used to be. I felt like people were not getting together the way I remember when I was younger. I was hoping to give people the opportunity to come together and work on something together with a common goal in mind. When you work with a team, everybody gets stronger. They feel a sense of pride and ownership because they’re part of it,” Thrall said.

Thrall had the same goal for her previous community art installations. She has painted a mural in Lead on a wall next to the Hanley Center on Miners Avenue. Thrall also completed Linking Fences projects at the Spearfish Rec & Aquatics Center parking lot and in Lead at Manuel Brothers Park.

Linking Fences 2019 is not likely to be her final creative endeavor to bring neighbors together.

“I hope to continue in this work because I really love it, and as long as you love a thing, it’s a good experience. When people love what they do then others are happy to be around them,” Thrall said.

Linking Fences 2019 is funded with grant money from the Bush Foundation Change Network and through the Matthews Opera House and private sponsors. Change Network funds and connects people who want to make their communities more inclusive and equitable. Change Network projects focus on providing unique opportunities to learn to work effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.

Thrall said the funding will pay for some materials, stipends for eight artist assistants from Lead, Marvin, Irene, Lower Brule and Spearfish who are helping Thrall carry out the project and for the community celebrations.

Additional organizations partnering in and supporting Linking Fences 2019 include Golden Ridge Assisted Living in Lead, Lower Brule Tribal School–second grade, Lower Brule Boys and Girls Club, Lead-Deadwood Arts Council, Spearfish Recreation and Aquatics Center, Lakota Youth Development and Christ Church Episcopal in Lead.

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