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Norwin students immerse themselves in art project

| Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 11:31 p.m.
Hillcrest Intermediate School student Cheyenne Klette, 11, and substitute teacher Sarah Zontek work on Wednesday on creating a sculpture made from recycled plastic containers. Cheyenne says the project allows her to use tools she typically doesn't handle. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

The Hillcrest Intermediate School courtyard is in the final stages of a transformation from grassy common area to colorful ocean seascape.

Fifth- and sixth-graders led by two Indiana University of Pennsylvania art students are building a 5-foot-tall octopus, mounds of coral, fish and other ocean animals entirely out of recyclable materials, most of which they brought from home.

Colored plastic bags stuffed into clear water bottles become the body of fish, squid and other creatures. Bottle cap eyes and plastic scrap fins bring the animals to life. And the yet-to-be named star of the show, an octopus that appears to be emerging from the water, has legs standing straight in the air made from blue Maxwell House coffee containers topped with blue laundry detergent jugs.

The "Octopus Garden" will open for a public gallery walk at 7 p.m. today. It's expected to become a permanent installment in the Norwin school's courtyard.

The project, led by Norwin graduates Kayla Ihrig and Brandon McDonald, studio art majors at IUP, is designed to teach students concepts such as contrasting and complementary colors while demonstrating how old items can be reused to create works of art.

Students brought in cat litter buckets, milk jugs, coffee containers, water bottles and hundreds of plastic bags to build the sculpture. Ihrig said 12 old shopping carts, which have been used to form the underlying structure of some of the pieces, came from a dump in Indiana County.

McDonald said he and Ihrig have been planning and preparing for the project since the end of January.

Molli Brown, one of the collaborating Hillcrest art teachers, said each of the 32 art classes in the school spent two classes working on the project with some sixth-grade classes doing extra prep work.

"It's stressful at times, but it is fun," Brown said as students swirled around her, many of them using handheld electric drills to attach frayed plastic fins to water bottle fish and then mount them on mounds of coral decorated with flowers made from disposable plastic table cloths.

"It raises awareness about a huge plastic consumption problem -- a problem that's in the ocean, which is why the ocean is tied in," Brown said.

Upstairs, art teacher Sue Teems had students braiding rope that will make a net with fish stuck in it. Students there were also taking recycling facts and mounting them on paper to hang around the Octopus Garden, she said.

"I learned you have to be careful with tools and that recycling could be fun," said Cheyenne Klette, 11, with a drill in hand. "The best part is you get to work with tools you probably would never work with ... at least at school."

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