"What would you imagine yourself to look like as you fly?" artist Brianne Tupper asked the students at West Branch School.
And so the seed was sown for the project "I Can Fly," a seven-month-long collaborative outdoor art installation hanging on display between two trees on the playground of the school at 755 Moore Ave., Newberry.
The installation consists of "personal flags" representing each child in the school. From a distance, one sees what appears to be a string of similar life-size "paper dolls" swaying in the wind.
West Branch School students recently worked on a seven-month-long art installation project that hangs on the playground of the school, 755 Moore Ave., Newberry. The “I Can Fly” installation consists of “personal flags” representing each child in the school. From a distance, one sees what appears to be a string of similar life-size “paper dolls” swaying in the wind.
But upon closer observation, each "paper doll" is distinguishable in many ways: in body position, in colors, in themes. Just as each student is unique, so is his or her personal flag.
The inspiration for the project began with a simple concept: finding a means for the students to express the personal elements that makes them who they are, and a way for them to share with the world their hopes, dreams, aspirations and accomplishments. The aim was to help students lay the foundation of self-expression.
Teachers Julie Miller and Erica Lomasson, along with Tupper, initiated the project by engaging the students (ages 5 to 11) in writing assignments as part of daily work and homework.
The students were asked questions about themselves, their hopes, dreams, what makes them proud, their accomplishments, their goals, what makes them special and unique. Illustrations were included and they were encouraged to use poetry, quotes, illustrations, personal statements and family stories.
Although the students were given ideas and themes as examples, they were given a blank canvas, literally, allowing them the freedom to do what they wanted. The process was thought provoking and the students took their time. Many dug deep within themselves; personal histories, even tragedies, were unearthed throughout the process.
Tupper then introduced the students to the next step of the creative process. They learned about the ideas and thought processes involved and the time and effort needed in taking those ideas and translating them into an art form. They learned the difference between sight-specific art installations and non sight-specific art installations.
Then came the actual creation of the artwork. The students had decided how they pictured themselves flying, and they learned the variety of artistic skills involved in creating the installation. After outlining their bodies on cotton broadcloth, they drew their designs with fabric dye, pens and markers.
They learned and observed how the flags were sealed with silicon (for weatherproofing) and how to install grommets to hang the work.
The flags were then attached to nylon rope on a pulley system between two trees. The process was not without glitches: deciding how to make the body parts stay up and where to place dowel rods were the biggest challenges.
In addition to a variety of art skills the students learned, the project introduced new skills from a variety of academic realms, including math and writing skills.
The order of the flag placement relied on specific measurements, but had to aesthetically work well. One 6-year-old student diligently measured the outdoor space and used the trundle wheel to help Tupper design the installation. The task provided an opportunity for him to be stretched beyond first-grade math, and is an example of the challenges that the teachers present daily to push the students' skill level.
Many challenges appeared, as some students struggled with expressing themselves. One student mentioned that she "liked listing the things I like and am proud of, but it was a bit of a challenge to think of everything I wanted to express and how to express it."
By working through their frustrations, students learned how patience and perseverance pays off, as ultimately each child can look at his or her personal flag with pride.
They uncovered their individual voices and opinions, and discovered how they shine by just being themselves. The students explored their sense of confidence and self-respect, and found ways to celebrate their individuality, which are aspects of the core philosophy of the school.
"I am proud of myself whenever I look up at it, but I also think it is crazy to see myself flopping around in the air!" said one student of her flag.
When asked what his favorite part of the project was, one student said, "watching all of the other kids think about what they were going to put on their personal flag and finding out what everyone was proud of themselves for."
"I Can Fly" will be on display at the school throughout the autumn. The public is invited to stop by the school anytime to view the piece. To view it during school hours, call 326-5498.