Students Sculpting Community
The Kentucky Heritage Sculpture Project, partially funded by an Arts Build Communities Grant from the Kentucky Arts Council, came to its finale on May 22nd as students gathered at the Behringer-Crawford Museum in Covington to unveil their collective sculpture. The purpose of the Arts Build Communities Grant program is to encourage partnerships such as this one between Bellevue and Scott High Schools, the museum and local artists. The combined effort of the groups is expected to contribute to the cultural, social, educational and economic growth of the community.
Students have been diligently designing and building since January of this year so that they may present the sculpture to the museum and the public. There were 18 student artists selected by teachers at each of the schools, all 36 of which would be working together on the same art piece. “It was something new for a lot of us to be working in one large group,” said Mallory Reynolds, sophomore at Bellevue High School.
Kurt Nicaise, Coordinator for Arts Programming at the museum, in conjunction with lead artist Jeni Engel-Conoly of Cincinnati, Vivian Kline, and Louisville artists Paul Nelson and Gregory Acker all came together to provide direction to students and aid them in creating this one unified piece. Teachers, Jane Hlad from Bellevue High School and Maggie Wilmhoff at Scott High School, were also instrumental in the project. “They were there to encourage students and make sure they were at sessions by getting them there,” said Nicaise, “dedication on students part is important as well so they also had to keep that moving.”
The Behringer-Crawford Museum is committed to enlightening residents and visitors of its local area of the regions unique cultural heritage. This is one of four project years that the museum has worked on an outdoor sculpture to speak to the heritage of Northern Kentucky. The inspiration for this years’ sculpture was the performing arts heritage of the area. The theme began to take shape by first exposing students to the arts, as there were some that had never actually attended a performing arts production. Students were given exposure opportunities ranging from a play at Northern Kentucky University’s campus to movement lessons from Engel-Conley, who came to the project not only as a regional sculptor, but a dance instructor who had worked for a number of years at the University of Dayton.
After their experiences, students were asked to reflect on the performing arts in ways that would apply to the sculpture. “They are time-based and so you are not left with a physical product from the performing arts, where a sculpture has a physical presence that transcends time so we talked about what the similarities were between performing and physical arts” said Nicaise. The common elements that they agreed to base the sculpture on were movement, repetition and balance.
Design sessions took place with students working in groups of two, forming 18 teams to develop separate designs; then each team shared with the larger group. After three design sessions, the students ideas were used by the lead artist along with Nicaise in what he described as “congealing them into one product” using what they saw as strong components from each of the students work that students could buy into. “Now that’s the hard part,” said Nicaise “because when you present it to the students, some will like it and some will hate it.” The students gave input on the piece that had elements from all the designs together before they transitioned into the building process where they worked on the sculpture itself.
“The two hardest parts were coming up with the idea and the design, because it took so much time,” said Bellevue High School sophomore, Nathan McIntosh, “but I still liked working with the group, I think we accomplished a lot more by working together.”
A combination of steel, copper and glass make up the sculpture. Each student found some elements easier to work with than others “and you could work with whatever part you wanted” said Reynolds. This allowed students to contribute the talents that came most naturally to them. Some students molded clay as positive elements to form plaster negatives that were used to create glass panels with the help of Louisville Glass Works. Paul Nelson at the Flame Run Studio in Louisville created the steel support sculpture that is basically a support structure for the glass panels.
The sculpture is sure to capture onlookers’ attention with its imaginative and meaningful structure. “The glass box sits on the ground with the lid thrust open, like a treasure chest or treasure trove that holds the heritage of performing arts, then there is a tall vertical element 19 to 20 feet tall that springs up out of the box like a jack-in-the-box representing creativity and inspiration. The copper surrounds the vertical element, like a dancing figure springing out from the horizontal bands that attach it, and hanging elements dangle in the wind off of that, providing music,” described Nicaise.
Passersby will also notice that there are also two chairs at the base of the sculpture. The sides and bottom of the chairs are sculpted glass and the backs of the chairs are made from something like xylophone tubes. Gregory Acker, a Louisville musician, inspired the students with this, and described the tubes as “metaliphones,” as they are made from metal instead of wood like a xylophone. The chairs are intended to represent the theatre, the presence or absence of someone sitting in chair. A person can straddle the chair and play the back of the chair with sticks. “They’re actually musical chairs,” said Nicaise, “so the piece is interactive in that it interacts with the elements like the wind and invites interaction from the viewer.”
Guests were excited to attend this communal celebration of the new artwork and completion of the project. Students not only successfully worked with the large group in completing the community sculpture, but can also share in pride and admiration with fellow students of their finished product on display at the museum. Reynolds commented, “everyone helped out even if it was a small portion that they worked on, they helped in a big way because it came out with a huge outcome overall.”
For further information on the Kentucky Heritage Sculpture Project contact Kurt Nicaise at the Behringer-Crawford Museum at (859) 491-4003. For further information about other Arts Build Community grant projects funded through the Kentucky Arts Council contract artists contact Community Arts Program Director Amber Luallen toll free at 888-833-2287 or email@example.com
EDITORS NOTE: Print quality photos available upon request to ed.Lawrence@ky.gov
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The Kentucky Arts Council is a state agency in the Commerce Cabinet. Working in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Council invests in programs that develop vibrant communities, provide lifelong education in the arts and support arts participation. Every $1 in grant funds awarded by the Kentucky Arts Council helps grantees secure $15 in earned income and matching funds from individuals, philanthropic sources and other levels of government.