Eighth grade students currently enrolled in my North Canton Middle School art classes have been busy learning about how artists explore issues of environmental concern. While analyzing artists such as Andy Goldworthy, El Anatsui and local artist PR Miller, they have gained an understanding of contemporary art practices and the significance in the choice of materials when conveying messages and addressing issues.
Students worked in small groups and came up with ideas for a sculpture that would inform our community of an environmental issue they felt passionate about. There were so many great concepts that dealt with issues such as pollution, deforestation, destruction of wildlife habitats and recycling. Each group spent time proposing their idea to Mrs. Marjorie McDougal, NCMS principal, with the intent of creating one of the sculptures. Mrs. McDougal narrowed it down to three ideas and then the classes voted to choose one.
The chosen project is a bottle tree made from recycled glass bottles with either a recycled wood or metal base. Their message they hope to send to the community is to reduce, reuse, recycle! Students will each paint one bottle with a message about the Earth and good environmental practices. These bottles will then be displayed by being placed on “branches” of a structure formed to look like a large tree or flower.
After deciding on this project, we learned a little bit about the history of the bottle tree and learned that there is a lot of folklore behind this sculpture. Everyone is familiar with the idea of genies living in bottles. Well, it turns out that this superstition dates back thousands of years and spans across many cultures. Arabian, African and many Europeans like the Irish and Germans, all had some form of belief that bad spirits could be trapped in glass and be evaporated by the morning sun, protecting those who placed bottles in lawns and windows.
Of course our project, instead of believing in the superstition of protection from bad spirits, perhaps ours could be used to eliminate unhealthy Earth practices!
As we begin collecting recycled bottles and prepping them to paint, I realize we are so lucky to have the support of our community while on this endeavor. However, as much as I would love to have students working with metal or wood to create the base, I’m afraid safety and time constraints will not allow my eighth graders to pick up power tools and welding materials.We are hoping that the base structure will be contributed by other local businesses or community members in the form of materials and skills.
It has been so nice to see my class has been working along Shelley Cobb of Let’s Care North Canton and repurposing wine bottles from community parents and local winery Gervasi Vineyards. North Canton Patch and the North Canton Chamber of Commerce have been gracious and lending a hand as well.
As our project moves into the production stages I will be sure to update with photos and blog entries.