Seventh grade students at West Hartford’s Bristow Middle School worked with local artist Stefanie Marco Lantz to create a piece that has been installed in the school’s front entryway.
By Ronni Newton
Bristow Middle School art teacher Kelly Smurthwaite knew that the school’s front entryway desperately needed a large art installation to liven it up, and she knew just the person to work with her students to create a piece worthy of permanent display.
Last year Smurthwaite approached Stefanie Marco Lantz, the energetic owner of KiNDSPiN DESIGN and co-founder of the WEHA Artists Emporium with her idea. Lantz was on board, and Smurthwaite applied for a grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools to finance the project.
“The grants are amazing,” Smurthwaite said. She has been awarded grants in the past and this one, the Carol & Tom Lorenzo Grant, paid for Lantz to spend six days at the school as an artist-in-residence, teaching the students how to combine “found objects” into works of art. The students created their own pieces as well as working collaboratively on the large installation that now livens up the ledge and is the focal point of Bristow’s entryway.
Lantz, who originated the “finders keepers” treasure hunts and other activities throughout the area designed to inspire art, loves incorporating discarded and otherwise useless objects into her work in part prompted by her concern for the environment.
The 50 seventh-graders – in two different classes – jumped right in, enjoying the freedom of expression and chance to get their hands dirty through the creative project.
“They’re making patterns, spray-painting stamps with found objects,” Lantz explained as she guided students who were working with old record albums that were donated to her for the project by the owner of the Spicy Green Bean in Glastonbury. The students also cut up pieces of sheet music – donated by Music & Arts in West Hartford Center – and used “modge podge” to affix them to the records which would eventually hang from two painted ladders.
The ladders were also donated. The students painted them royal blue and added bubble designs with circle stamps they created.
In addition to the records, some students painted bright orange wooden fish, with eyes and fins created from old bottle caps donated by Avery Soda that the students hammered flat. The fish are interspersed among the records.
Also suspended from the ladders is a banner of flags made from ripstop nylon. “The flags are wishes to send out to make the world a better place,” Lantz said. The colorful ribbons that hang from each – “just scraps,” Lantz said.
In addition to working on the installation, each student created their own sculpture to take home. They also learned how to make their own stencils.
Before the students began their creations, Lantz spoke with them about using found objects, and showed them examples of other artists who work with items that others might see as useless trash.
According to the description of the grant, “the exciting goals of this project are for students to experiment with creating in three-dimensions, consider what constitutes art and fabricate unusual materials together individually and in a team setting.”
“They’ve been working so hard, and they’ve been so good,” Lantz said as the project neared completion. “I give them all A-pluses,” she said.
On Thursday morning, thanks to the help of Lantz’ husband, Carl, the installation was in place and the students posed beneath it.
Smurthwaite, who was also pleased with the collaboration of her students, said the installation will remain in the entryway permanently – “at least for a few years,” she said.
For more information about Stefanie Marco Lantz and KiNDSPiN, visit her website.
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