Visiting schools as a guest artist has led me to consider students as apprentices on group projects. We work as a team through a problem toward an unknown. During the course of the project, opportunities for guidance and the use of our “visual language” are constant. This process is terrifically enjoyable for all.
Cylinders are an under-appreciated format for any concept. In this project, students will be gluing material directly onto pillars, and fabricating elements to be attached. After each class, all effort is passed on to the next group. Everyone is “owning it” and eagerly anticipates resolution. Schedule this project for a time when you want to have fun with your students.
These pillars could be made to depict artist’s styles, eras, or theories. During your introduction, it would be helpful to share photos of ancient and more recent pillars, as well as mosaics. The work of current mosaic artists Giulio Menossi and Dino Maccini are especially inspiring examples of dimension and flow.
I have worked with varied group configurations: K–12th grade, all-school, select grades, or one grade level. (It is important that at least half of the students are old enough to use hot glue guns). My approach depends on the timeframe, and collected/donated materials. Accomplishments vary— we’ve made three pillars in three days, six in five days, and four in one month!
Available time and student age determine the amount of complexity. Your schedule will inform your vision and approach. (Average contact periods for me are 20 per week with different lengths.)
Inexpensive cardboard concrete-forming tubes provide lightweight formats. At least three will keep a class of 24 productive. They can be purchased at most large hardware/lumber suppliers for around $6. They’re usually 8 to 12 inches wide and 48 inches long. Spray or brush on primer on them.
Prepare simple diagrams depicting your concepts for reference. Keep them simple to allow for experimentation. Draw basic layouts onto cylinders with colored pencil. Set trays of site-specific ready-to-glue embellishments at each pillar station along with two to three hot glue guns. Dual temp is best, using low temp settings. Long glue sticks are the most efficient. Pieces that students have fabricated will be added to each station.
Huge plastic Christmas ornaments are a fun addition, yet not necessary. Using low-tack tape, mask off a percentage of the ornament before priming. We’ve also included rope lights, LCD tape lights and rice lights. Thick wooden circles can be found at large hardware/lumber suppliers to make finished platforms for the sake of framing. Recently I’ve added “Worbla,” a thermoplastic material which is moldable after submerging in hot water.
Collect flat and dimensional structures for students to embellish. These become components to be applied to pillars. This is for students too young to use hot glue and older students who are awaiting a turn to use it. These can be as simple as craft sticks, skewers, plastic bottle lids, handmade paper beads; or anything to compose upon.
Embellishments could include glitter, sand, beads, yarn, fabric, “Bling Salad”; whatever comes your way. Use good white glue (“Tacky” and “Weldbond” are good choices). Some porous structures can be adhered to pillars with white glue. A “quality control manager” at each station keeps craftsmanship in check.
Donated materials produce unexpected results. It’s surprising what you may find yourself using. A favorite of mine are wiggle eyes—thousands if I could get them! One challenging yet productive donation was a large box of foam stickers, which we sorted by color intending to forget what shapes they were! The most productive request for donations was by seventh-grade art teacher Ginny Freitag providing chocolate rewards! This is an opportunity to clean out your closets. If you’ve been hoarding neat things, it is a good time to let go.
Inevitably, I am thinking about the next project. Mortar and/or a sealed finish is what I consider, and perhaps some day, traditional tiles. However, I’m interested in keeping the cost low. I like using material that students can access on their own. Ultimately it would be great if some students are inspired to create their own interpretation at home.
Initially, we used simple paper-folding techniques and bright copy paper. Alas, I was spending hours gluing these myself and limiting the project to one 12″ x 48″ group pillar. The beautiful results appear to be cultural without a specific culture represented. These were made as a paper folding reference inspiring young students to fold paper on their own. Later, to my amusement, a middle-school art teacher started stamping glue and glitter circles and adding plastic gems. After some hesitation, I embraced her idea. Life hasn’t been the same since. Using cylinders began with wanting to maximize group energy. Mostly it just sounded fun! Column, pillar, whatever you call it, it’s simply a format. Being 3-D qualifies it as sculptural so consider every viewpoint as you work. Enthusiasm heightens as we see progress. As far as resolve goes: “If you wonder whether it’s finished … then it’s not.” If your time frame becomes too short, consider using idle time or after-school activity to accomplish final tweaks.
Along with teamwork, the use of interpretation, composition, repetition, and texture create the atmosphere we enjoy when making art. Remind students to consider solving problems rather than starting new ones. Unless you’re adding 70 pounds of cannibalized tech equipment, these are lightweight and mobile.
As students help gather material they become invested in the project. Using cast-offs, repurposed and recycled material adds to the satisfaction of seeing what appears. Collected pieces naturally reflect our culture.
Art teachers are my heroes. Especially Joan Rudholm for an essential junior-high art experience; Lloyd Menard for my understanding of resolve; and Chip Simone for an excellent intro to design through which I understand the all-encompassing creative process.
Cheryl Halsey has held art residencies for city and rural South Dakota students since 1988. Residencies vary from one week to one month, K-12, often working with art teachers. Experimentation and adaptability led her to this unique and enjoyable project.
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