August 7, 2003



Alena Schaim in Emilys’ Garden, which she created on the Antioch College front lawn to honor Antioch student Emily Howell and Emily Eagen, a former student, who were murdered in Costa Rica three years ago.


Meditation space honors slain Antioch students

In March 2000, the Antioch College campus was rocked by the murders of two students. Three years later, a new meditation garden on the campus honors the young women who died, and also provides young people with a space for peace and serenity.

“Nothing can bring them back. Nothing can make their deaths less horrible,” said Alena Schaim, the creator of Emilys’ Garden who graduated from Antioch in April. “But I wanted to encourage people to see that every day they have an option, the option to start turning in more positive directions.”

Three years ago, an Antioch College student, Emily Howell, and a former student, Emily Eagen, were killed while in Costa Rica, where Howell was doing her co-op and Eagen was visiting. A young Costa Rican man was later charged with their murders.

The Antioch campus reeled following the young women’s deaths, according to Schaim, who was in the same class as Howell and knew both young women as “friends of friends.” Traumatized by the tragedy, Schaim found herself “looking for all the grounding experiences I could get,” she said, and turned to meditation and yoga.

As meditation helped her find inner calm, Schaim sought a way to share the experience with others. A sculptor, she began dreaming two years ago of creating a meditation garden on the Antioch campus, a place where, in the midst of the emotionally charged Antioch experience, students could find peace and quiet.

Schaim’s idea took further shape when she visited a Texas retreat center that featured a large sculpture of a woman holding the earth. Inspired by the sculpture, she began planning a similar space on the Antioch campus. Although she initially thought of her project as simply a meditation garden, Schaim gradually saw a connection between her garden and the tragic murders, which took place during Schaim’s first year at Antioch.

“I realized that the changes I made in my life at that time were because of the Emilys’ deaths,” she said. “I thought they should get recognition.”

Schaim talked with the young women’s friends and also wrote letters to their families, seeking approval for the project. She received it, she said, and Emily Howell’s mother even offered sketches. After that, Schaim decided to create Emilys’ Garden for her senior project.

Now completed, the garden features five large female figures surrounding a cedar-chip-covered circular area in a pine grove between the Antioch College Main Building and the Science Building. The large sculptures, made from adobe and cement, sit facing each other in a variety of meditative positions. From a distance, the women look eerie and mystical. Close up, the urge is to sit in their laps.

Schaim said she intended the women to serve as guardians of the garden, hoping their motherly presence provides a calming effect.

“Because of their biological and societal roles,

women are all about nurturing,” she said. And there was another reason why she chose to create only one gender. “I know how to sculpt women,” she said. “I can’t do men.”

Schaim began the outdoor work after the long 2002–03 winter ended, and she worked on it feverishly for eight weeks, until Antioch’s April graduation ceremonies. The first three weeks she mixed the adobe and cement, then poured it into large five-by-eight molds. Next, she and several friends spent five weeks carving out the female figures. She worked “24/7, from dawn until dusk,” after the weather cleared up, and became so frantic about finishing at one point that she attempted to sculpt in the dark. However, after examining her handiwork the following morning, Schaim resolved not to try that again.

From her project Schaim learned many unexpected things, such as “everything a lay person could possibly know about cement” as well as how to drive a Bobcat-like piece of machinery. She also became skilled at wielding an ax.

Fundraising turned out to be another unanticipated learning experience, as the initial estimated cost of $2,000 mushroomed to $15,000, due to larger-than-anticipated supply costs. While she has paid most of the project off, she still has $800 in bills on her credit card, Schaim said.

Especially gratifying, Schaim said, was the connection she felt with her two former peers during the garden-making process. “Because I’ve been thinking of them, I felt that the Emilys have been with me,” she said. “I’ve had really good company.”

For more information about Emilys’ Garden, or to make a donation, contact Kathy Carr at the Antioch College arts area, 769-1020.

—Diane Chiddister