Surprise Sculpture students hang out with nature

By Lisa Brainard

Exploring nature is always fun, seeing both the large and small creatures and plants that make up the world, as well as one’s local environment.

Kids from the Lanesboro area and beyond used nature as the basis for a group art collaboration on Tuesday, July 19. It was part of the summer’s six-session Surprise Sculpture art program for youths offered by Lanesboro Arts. This specific session was also sponsored in part by Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center. Emily Woll, a 12-month naturalist at Eagle Bluff, helped to explore how elements of nature can be tied to art.

More than a dozen youths, sack lunches in hand, initially met at noon in the Lanesboro Arts working studio above the Saint Mane Theatre. Lanesboro Arts administrative intern Jaime Webb, along with Woll, explained what the day held in store. They’d be using items from nature as stencils on cloth banners, spraying around them with paint.

At the conclusion of the session — planned to last until 2 p.m. — the five vertical banners created would be hung on the wall of a downtown business that had given permission — Community Grounds Market, to be specific.

Woll had the kids sit in a large circle. As she asked questions, she doled out a continuous string. She gave it to the youths in no particular order, typically as answers were given. She asked each to hold it off the floor. Then she asked, if one person let go of his or her piece, what would happen? And they tried it. The total cobweb of strings would fall to the floor. That relationship showed what can happen in an ecosystem when something changes or goes extinct.

Then the kids colored a little bit before fear of afternoon storms led them to move onto creating stencils from paper. They drew items like fish, mushrooms and more.

When it came time to cut them out, Jaime and Emily explained there were two options. They could cut out around the drawings, which would leave that shape in white once they were outside, placing the cutouts on the banners, and sharing and spraying various bright colors of paint around them.

Or the students could cut out their patterns from the surrounding paper. Then spraying the paint in trigger bottles would leave a white square on the banner with the paint showing up in the middle in the shape of the pattern.

Jaime asked if they understood. Soon all the kids did and were happily cutting out their designs in one way or other with scissors. The watchful eyes of adults on hand kept everyone safe and the boundless enthusiasm under control both in the workspace and as the youths headed outside. They took their patterns to green space across the street from the Saint Mane, between the Krage Insurance building and Community Grounds Market.

Then the real fun began.

The kids donned aprons for protection from the paint, shared the spray bottles of many lively colors available and started spraying paint around their designs. Here Woll offered another option. She had collected items from nature to spray around, including leaves, long grasses and, of course, a rhubarb leaf in a town famous for its rhubarb festival.

As the youths worked on sharing bottles of paint, interesting overall designs emerged — first on a “practice” banner and then on the banners to be hung. All were laid on protective sheets on the ground, lest the grass emerge in splotches of crazy color here and there.

Eventually, the banners were deemed finished. Adults at the Surprise Sculpture event took them carefully into Common Grounds Market and up to the five second-story windows facing Pedal Pushers across the street. The kids watched from below as the banners were hung out the windows, as various problems were addressed such as a hanging string coming off one. Then the banners were attached to the wall, creating a fabulous art installation for a time this summer. The kids looked on excitedly at their fun artwork, as pedestrians smiled to see the end product.

According to the Surprise Sculpture webpage on the Lanesboro Arts website, “Since 2013, Surprise Sculpture has provided arts education opportunities for local students. For six weeks each summer, Lanesboro Arts staff and volunteers – many of whom are professional artists – lead participants in constructing large-scale, site-specific sculptures for public spaces using a mixture of upcycled, recycled, and fine art materials. The program serves over 150 rural youth and adults from Lanesboro, Harmony, Preston, Rushford, and beyond each year. The hands-on production of these large sculptures takes place mainly in Lanesboro Arts’ St. Mane Theatre, which was recently renovated as part of the Lanesboro Arts Campus campaign to include a bright classroom and studio space for education programs.”

Goals of the program also are listed as “1. Providing free, high-quality arts education experiences to rural youth; 2. encouraging community pride and heightened cultural identity through public art; 3. teaching creative problem solving, inter-generational learning, and community service through hands-on art-making; 4. bringing awareness to, and celebrating, community assets and traditions; and 5. increasing the beauty of overlooked places in the community, encouraging walkability, and fostering public interaction.”

Surprise Sculpture ended its six-week run on July 26. Although she had some vacation days off when this session was held on nature banners so wasn’t on hand, the program director this summer has been Kara Maloney, organizational assistant at Lanesboro Arts. She also assisted with the program in the past.