News Column

Beauty in recycling

May 25, 2014

By Kathy Boyd, Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.

May 25--Flowers, running water and colorful hanging sculptures greeted art fans and guests to Gallery Night on a March evening at Big Lake Elementary School.

"This was one of the most impressive evenings I have ever seen here at school," first-grade teacher Julie Erickson said.

Glass sculptures by well-known artist Dale Chihuly inspired the winter student art project. All 300 students created enormous, vividly colored Chihuly-like sculptures out of plastic pop and water bottles.

"The finished sculptures were beyond anything we had hoped for," said Principal Jennifer Allen. "Considering they were made completely of plastic water bottles, they truly looked liked glass. They were beautiful and our gym was transformed into an art gallery atmosphere, which was the best way to present them to the community."

Erickson said walking into the exhibit was like walking into a Chihuly exhibit.

"The walls of the gym were lined with flowing fabric to give it the feel of a gallery. There was a Chihuly film going on the stage," she said. "One could walk around the creations that each class had done and sit in the comfortable furniture, complete with a fountain in the middle focusing on a beautiful orange (sculpture)."

Chihuly creates blownglass art and sculptures as well as multimedia art pieces and drawings. Project organizer Krista Hynds said she fell in love with his work when she saw a retail window display in San Francisco a few years ago.

"They had used some water bottles to make flowers, during Earth Week, and were pushing the recycle message," Hynds said. "I saw those flowers and was hooked."

Hynds said after seeing some Chihuly-inspired art online she thought "we could take this whole thing to another level with the bottles," despite cutbacks in the creative arts curriculum.

"As we all know, music, art and languages are the first to go when funds fall short or the curriculum shifts," she said.

With faculty and staff behind the project, Hynds started in December getting the students to collect all sizes of plastic bottles. "Our students were very excited from the beginning," Allen said.

By the end of January, they had collected more than 4,500 bottles.

Hynds said she began volunteering in her children's classrooms about six years ago at Big Lake, then reached out to other classrooms because she wanted every child to experience and develop a love for art.

For this sculpture project, she was determined to involve the entire school. She visited every classroom weekly for about a month, helping students cut the plastic bottles following a nature theme, as Chihuly does.

The students worked hard and embraced the project, she said. "(They) were giddy when I came through the door."

She encouraged the students to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum in Seattle or the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood to get a feel for the artist's style.

"I talked to the kids about all types of materials being used for art," Hynds said. "Finding beauty in everyday things that are often overlooked. These ugly, empty bottles -- transformed -- even seeing value in what they considered a mistake."

Once the bottles were cut and the students' concept for the finished sculptures was captured on paper, Hynds and her friend, Sherri Johnson, took the sketches and color schemes from each classroom or grade, then assembled the bottles into a sculpture.

They used spray paint to achieve the beautiful yellows and intense blues and purples. "It was the only medium that really worked," Hynds said.

The bottle parts were assembled into flowers or jellyfish, or unusual shapes, then drilled and wired to a chicken wire form to create a "chandelier." Each sculpture took anywhere from 12-20 hours to assemble, Hynds said.

Two years ago Hynds introduced the concept of artist trading cards to the students, based on other artists. Once the sculptures were finished, she encouraged students to make more trading cards to display during Gallery Night in March.

The big evening on March 14 was "spectacular," Hynds said.

"Each student had helped create the thousands of flowers needed to complete these creations, and they each were so excited to see how it all came together," Erickson said.

Gallery Night was attended by 200-plus guests -- not just students and families, but community residents, alumni and other district families, as well as the school superintendent and other staff.

Hynds said everyone seemed to appreciate the students' hard work and to grasp the ultimate message:

"There is no failure in art; it's beautiful in someone's eyes. Even Chihuly called his Macchia bowls 'the uglies' when he first started them. Now they are one of his top sellers and recognized worldwide."


(c)2014 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.)

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Source: Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, WA)

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