By Katie Scarvey
Turn over one of Bryant Holsenbeck’s business cards and you might discover it’s made of cardboard from a frozen waffle box.
As an environmental artist, Holsenbeck is passionate about using recycled materials.
“My work is about using stuff that people throw away,” she says.
Last week, Holsenbeck participated in a weeklong residency ó Art and the Environment ó at Waterworks Visual Arts Center. Holsenbeck shared her artistic and environmental values with 36 middle-school students.
On Tuesday, the project was creating fiber-wrapped animals, similar to those in Holsenbeck’s professional exhibit, WILD Life, currently on exhibit at Waterworks.
“I’ve never taught kids to do this before, so I’m excited,” Holsenbeck said.
Assisting in the project was Lisa Wear, an environmental educator with Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Wear taught students about the characteristics of various groups of animals and had them consider how animals are adapted to for an aquatic, arboreal, or terrestrial existence.
After discussing the animals, Holsenbeck gathered the students around a table and gave them all safety glasses to wear, since they would be working with wire.
Holsenbeck treated the students like colleagues, sharing stories of her artistic failures as well as her successes.
“I made a skunk for that show downstairs, and it looked like a dachshund, so I didn’t use it,” she told them.
After showing them several of her fiber animals ó a snake and a rat ó Holsenbeck queried the students. “Does everybody have an idea of an animal they want to make?”
There was a chorus of “yeses.”
Carrying wire hangers to be used as skeletons for their animals, students went back to their tables. Later, they would wrap them with fiber. At the end of the week, their creations were added to Holsenbeck’s installation exhibit in the Osborne and Woodson Galleries at Waterworks.
Sixth-grader Candace Lyerly was crafting a bobcat. Seventh-grader Ben Cobb was working on a rabbit. A cheetah was in the works for seventh-grader Gabriela Rolden. Seventh-grader Hannah Rayes was planning a bear.
Holsenbeck and Wear circulated.
“That’s shaping up. Yay!” said Holsenbeck, examining eighth-grader Troy Culbertson’s bat.
Wear told Culbertson that it looked like a fruit bat and said she’d bring him a photo of one the next day.
“That looks great, really good,” she said.
Next door, artist David Edgar was demonstrating a different kind of environmental art to another group of students.
“Be careful with your cuts; conserve materials,” he said.
An associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Edgar wasn’t talking about pricey materials such as silk or leather.
He was talking about plastic detergent jugs ó the material he uses to make his colorful assemblage sculptures.
Edgar’s work can be seen in an exhibit currently at Waterworks: “Creatures from the Plastiquarium,” a series of fish crafted from things that most people throw away.
Edgar urged his students to use even recycled materials wisely and efficiently.
“I’m always trying to use the smallest piece possible to achieve my goal,” he said.
“You need to be responsible with the resources,” he said.
Edgar was teaching students to make fish pins.
Before getting into the creative part of the project, students learned about the parts of a fish ó what a pectoral fin is, for example ó and then Edgar demonstrated how to go about making one, including using a pop rivet to attach the plastic pieces together.
Students first sketched out a design.
“I’d rather you have an idea before you start cutting,” Edgar said.
Sixth grader Wendy Walters was enjoying the project.
“It’s challenging, but that’s the fun” she said. “It’s really cool you can make all this with recycled stuff that people throw away.”
“I’m working on my fin right now,” said sixth-grader Marius Doyle.
After the projects were complete, Edgar displayed each one and discussed its design.
“This one looks like a piranha,” he said of one. “Piranhas have that sort of blunted head to them.”
Still, he said, it was “a very happy-looking fish” because it appeared to be smiling.
This year’s Art and the Environment residency was sponsored in part by Fisher Realty, Inc., the Carrol Fisher Construction Company, and the Hitachi Foundation. The program is offered in partnership by the Waterworks Visual Arts Center, the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, and Catawba College’s Center for the Environment.
Teachers and guidance counselors nominated students for the residency, which was free of charge to them.
There was an enormous response this year, said Lori McMahon, executive director at Waterworks, who initiated the curriculum-based summer program in 2005.
The work of Holsenbeck, Edgar and the students who participated in the residency will be on exhibit at Waterworks through Aug. 25.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.