Stop and Smell the Poppies
Senior student leaves a lasting legacy on campus.
April 26, 2023
April 26, 2023
As a Houston native, Ashton Frey ’23 is all too familiar with the city’s expansive highway system, car culture, and drab, grey concrete surroundings. Before he began college, Frey would travel weekly through Houston’s bumper-to-bumper traffic to Rice University for pole vaulting practice. During these drives, he noticed how bleak the city looked through the eyes of a commuter. Then, when he and his parents went on a mural tour of Houston, an idea to beautify the town was born.
Houston Art & Paint Initiative (HAPI) is Frey’s solution to the city’s dire need for beautification. HAPI aims to provide public art exhibits for Houston’s highway system, cityscapes, and neighborhoods. As a nonprofit organization, HAPI receives funds through generous donations to commission artwork that will turn ordinary objects into public works of art. The public installations could include painted murals, mini murals, creative gardening, light installations, architectural enhancements, sculptures, and functional art.
While HAPI is a Houston-based nonprofit, Frey decided to leave a lasting legacy at Southwestern, his soon-to-be alma mater. Georgetown is known for its iconic red poppies that bloom yearly and even has a weekend-long event celebrating the flower’s springtime return, the Red Poppy Festival. Frey has installed Stoppy signs on campus behind the McCombs Campus Center to honor the city’s official flower.
“Even though HAPI is a Houston initiative, I wanted to start in Georgetown because I want to give back to my alma mater,” Frey said. “It’s such a cool city, and this project represents the historical significance of red poppies.”
Getting the Stoppy signs approved, fabricated, and installed was a collaborative city and campus-wide effort. A photo on Pinterest inspired the initial iteration of the Stoppy sign. Frey said he saw a picture of crochet fabric wrapped around trees and stop signs in cities and thought he could do the same on campus. However, his idea pivoted to creating metal stop signs when he realized crochet would not hold up against the elements.
“I started researching how much everything costs and how difficult it would be to manufacture,” Frey recalls. “Then I had to ensure President Trombley would approve it; next, I worked with Rick Martinez in Facilities Management, who directed me to local engineers who could help manufacture the sign.”
Frey received a McMichael Fund Grant from the University to cover the cost of manufacturing the stop signs and worked with American Fence & Supply Co. to fabricate them. The manufacturing process took about five weeks from start to finish, while the entire project took over nine months from concept to completion. Once manufactured, the signs were installed at the intersection behind the McCombs Campus Center on April 24 and 25, just in time for Georgetown’s Red Poppy Festival.
Upon graduation, Frey plans to continue his work as the president of HAPI. He will begin working with the city of Houston and local artists to install the nonprofit’s first mural project along the city’s highway. For now, his Stoppy signs will stand on Southwestern’s campus for years to come and serve as a reminder to students that their ingenuity will take them far and leave a lasting impression.