By Leah Sander
WINONA LAKE — Payton Slaymaker’s story reached far from her hometown of Claypool.
Now she has been memorialized in Winona Lake by an artist who didn’t know her personally.
Former art teacher Christi Ziebarth has painted a butterfly mural at Winona Lake Limitless Park in honor of Payton. Payton passed away at age 10 in April after battle with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a cancer affecting the brain stem.
The mural is on the side of a restroom facility at the park. A mini butterfly mural is also on the building.
Payton’s family detailed her battle with cancer through Facebook as well as raised awareness through yard signs, which brought her story to strangers like Ziebarth, and attracted the interest of thousands.
“When I realized what it was all about, my heart turned inside-out,” said Ziebarth. “There’s just something about an entire community banding together around a little girl that … moves.”
Around the time that Payton passed away, Winona Lake Park Department Director Holly Hummitch asked Ziebarth to put a mural at the Limitless Park. Ziebarth opted to turn the mural into a memorial for Payton.
It took two days for Ziebarth to complete the painting. She added Payton’s favorite color, teal, to it. Ziebarth’s son Brandon assisted her in the project.
The butterfly ties in with a nine-foot butterfly memorial ARTwall that Ziebarth is finishing at Claypool Elementary School, where Payton attended. It’s also in honor of Payton.
That project, which should be finished by the time school starts, is made up of geometric panels that Claypool students helped create during a workshop Ziebarth had at the school towards the end of the last school year.
Ziebarth helped create two other memorial ARTwalls at local elementary schools. One is at Harrison Elementary School to memorialize Gidieon Cook, a classmate of her son’s who was killed while walking at a crosswalk near the school in June 2019.
The other is at Mentone Elementary School in honor of Alivia Stahl, Mason Ingle and Xzavier Ingle, three siblings killed while crossing SR 25 to board their school bus in October 2018.
“Especially for children, art is a visual language when words fall short,” said Ziebarth of art as therapy. “My projects with students are always a blend of colors within an abstracted technique – just as life is full of emotions that are fluid and mesh together from one day to the next as we experience and remember both the happy and the sad.”
She talked of how the art-making process helps people due to creativity.
“It is my belief that creativity is innate at our core no matter who we are or how we fill our days – because we are created in the image of a creative God,” she said. “When we get in touch with that side or help others too, things just go better and feel better. Kids are no exception; neither are adults.”
Ziebarth hopes Payton’s family and friends are helped by both the park and school memorials.
“Butterflies are beautiful and gave Payton joy,” she said. “The evening that I finished the last brushstroke on the mural, I sent a photo to (Payton’s mother) Kim (Slaymaker) to let her know it was done. The next day, she posted a photo of Avery, Payton’s younger sister, in front of the mural and invited all who have shared in their journey to visit the Wings, too, take a picture, share and hashtag to #wingsatwinona.”
“Kim said Payton would have loved the Wings,” Ziebarth continued. “At the end of the day, that was the best compliment. When I overheard several of Payton’s friends in the school painting workshops say, ‘Oh, Payton would have loved this! She would have loved the colors and the spinning and that we are all doing it together …’ isn’t that what it’s all about?”