Several years ago, I attended a workshop demonstrating how Dale Chihuly-inspired flowers could be created using plastic bottles. Over the next few years, I explored this recycling project with my fifth-grade students. The idea has evolved as we experimented with numerous approaches for displaying the sculptures. That first year, students made a tower; the second year, panels were covered with the forms; and for the past two years, students have created flowers on stems.
Last year, I took another workshop on the same process. Scanning the room, I saw a tiny sculpture hanging from a paperclip. Immediately, I knew that this was what my students needed to construct for the artroom, only on a much larger scale. Students would not only create individual flowers—they would combine them into a single giant structure.
The Bigger Picture
Such a dramatic, collective project would expand students’ learning to include concepts such as ecological responsibility, team building, and acting locally to make an impact globally. To make this plan a reality, I visited the Dale Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg, Florida, which showcased many of his magnificent sculptures. When I saw his chandeliers, I knew in an instant that a chandelier would be perfect for my students to create.
I contemplated the design and construction of an armature for the chandelier. Because my artroom is a large open space, the armature could extend 6’ (1.8 m) in diameter and 8’ (2.5 m) in height. The result looked like a sort of Christmas-tree form made of chicken wire.
I used three large trash cans taped together to structure the bottom of the form and gradually worked upward, closing the form in a little as necessary. I folded the wire over in places like darts in fabric construction. Because the chicken wire was about 2 ½’ (.8 m) wide, I used small pieces of wire to attach the form where the wire overlapped. Wearing gloves, I was able to bend and shape the wire. As I neared the top, I sued a ladder and pulled the wire together tighter, crimping until the armature was finished.
Crating the flowers began with clear two-liter plastic bottles. Students rinsed the bottles, removed the labels, and cut the plastic rings from the necks of the bottles. They painted the bottles with acrylic and hung them on a clothesline to dry.
Once the bottles were dry, students cut off the bottoms and then cut them into various flower-like shapes in a variety of forms and spirals. They layered the painted plastic pieces together using hot-glue guns and adorned the centers with small bits of colored wire and beads. Students hot-glued finished flowers to wooden dowels and wrapped them with green florist tape for completion.
A Collective Effort
After students completed their flowers, we set out to create the chandelier. As I discussed the idea of an installation to students, I emphasized that we were all working together to create a large sculpture that would hang permanently in the artroom. We also discussed the concept of the “bigger picture.”
We began inserting the flowers into the armature, beginning at the bottom with cool colors, gradually changing to warmer colors, and finishing with white at the top. The necks of the bottles fit snugly into the open spaces in the chicken wire, so attaching them was not a problem. Because the armature was large, many bottles were needed. As the armature was filled out with the bottles, it gained volume and began to take on a life of its own.
A friend in construction assisted with the hanging of the chandelier, which was inverted so that the large end of the base was attached to a wooden disk. Using a pulley system, he attached it to the ceiling so that it tapered downward.
A Profound Impact
The end result was more than gratifying. Everyone who sees the chandelier is dazzled by its color, beauty, and stature; the visual impact is profound. It is not unusual to have students bring visitors into the artroom to show them the chandelier. They are so very proud of the art they crated together. As for the seeds planted by the “bigger picture,” they will certainly grow within students for years to come.
National Standard – Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
Shaw J. Lane is the art specialist at Jacksonville Country Day School in Jacksonville, Florida.
Reprinted with permission from . Visit their website: www.schoolartsmagazine.com