Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

February 20, 2009

Branching out

Travis students learn art doesn't have to be with paint or pencil, or kept indoors

By Libby Cluett

A trip along S.E. Martin Luther King Street offers drivers a new treat for the eyes, thanks to 40 fifth graders, two art teachers and a supportive Travis Elementary administration.

Last week teachers Debra Strandberg and Skipper Bennett installed the students’ artwork, now grazing on the Travis lawn as a community art piece.

Students constructed their horses from limbs and twigs, inspired by the work of artist Deborah Butterfield, known for her close to life size depictions of horses made from found objects.

The teachers and students visited Fort Worth, where they toured horses in art at the Amon Carter Museum and saw “Hina,” an outdoor bronze horse by Butterfield at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Their day culminated with a visit to Bryant Art Foundry in Azle. There, they molten bronze cast into forms.

Though made of bronze, sticks and limbs were Butterfield’s original raw materials for “Hina.”

From Butterfield’s work, fifth grader Hannah Bessent said she learned “art is not just painting. It’s sculpture and others. I first thought it was really crazy [to make art from sticks] when I started. [Then] it was real and came together perfect.”

Bessent said she learned artistic features of a horse as well as three-dimensional construction. “I learned how the horse was shaped and how you had to get the legs thicker at the top and thinner at the bottom,” she said.

According to Strandberg, the raw materials were recycled from the city brush pile and other places. Students used different sizes and species of twigs. She said it was fun to watch them discover the material and cited one example when a student started making a forelock of horse hair by pulling apart cedar bark.

Callie Hawkins learned, “How you can make something really beautiful out of something you see every day.”

Bennett said he was impressed how students learned about “letting material guide the way it goes. It jelled at about the three-quarter point.”

Yohaneli Jimenez was able to sit on his sculpture, titled “Champ.” He said he learned “construction and using my imagination.” The teachers said his was one of only a few that they never touched for assistance. “That’s pretty impressive,” said Bennett.

Both teachers said they emphasized to students the importance of having their work become a part of the community. “Art is not just for inside. It is for the community. You can’t be afraid of putting something out,” said Strandberg.

“We hope this will be the beginning of future public art installations by Travis art students,” the teachers stated in a note sent to Travis parents.

Strandberg said during the week she has seen people taking cell phone pictures as they wait to pick up Travis students. She added that a neighbor walked over to see the new community installation shortly after the works first grazed on the Travis lawn.

The art teachers said they are grateful for the support from Principal Natalie Griffin and administration. They were able to complete the project without disrupting their other art classes since they were allowed to use a studio space at school.