Southold students sculpt with bottles to save the planet

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Southold elementary school sixth grader Grace with her plastic bottle girl named 'Holly.'

Southold sixth-graders are combining art classes with environmental responsibility, hoping to set an example for younger students and, perhaps, the whole town. Art teacher Ken Maier has challenged them to create human forms using only recyclable bottles and tape.

Working in groups of four or five, the students began by sketching ideas for what the figures might look like and then did research on the Internet into the environmental impacts of discarded plastic water bottles. Then they put together their creations, each one carrying a message, such as:

“Did you know that, altogether, everyone buys about $15 billion worth of bottles every year?”

“Only 23 percent of water bottles are recycled and that means 38 billion are filling up landfills.”

“Recycling one water bottle saves enough energy to power a 60 watt light bulb for six hours.”

Now on display in the school, the bottle artwork may soon find its way to venues such as Southold Town Hall, Southold Free Library and local supermarkets, where students hope it will raise consciousness about the environment.

The artists began with a mountain of recyclable bottles that were collected within the school district — another initiative undertaken by elementary school students who approached the Southold Board of Education about putting recycling bins around the campus.

Over about three weeks the students struggled to develop concepts for their models and overcome challenges in creating them.
“I mean, water bottles? How are we going to do this?” was Owen Klipstein’s first response. The 11-year-old said he couldn’t initially see how to turn plastic bottles into a human figure.

“Every time we finished and had the whole body together, the legs would get messed up,” said 11-year-old Grace Bruer. Her group tried using weights to hold the legs in place.

That was also a problem for Evelyn Cummings, 11, whose group found that one leg always seemed to be shorter than the other.
Then there was the problem that, between classes, the partially constructed models would be set aside maybe a little too close to the radiator in the art room and they’d melt a bit, Mr. Maier said.

“I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to look like a person or a robot,” said Meg Pickerell, 11.

Toward the end, students began running out of tape, said Emily Perry, 11.

That was a particularly difficulty for 12-year-old Jake McCarthy’s group, which wanted its figure to appear to be kneeling. Jake said it took a lot of tape.

Making a figure stand was a challenge that Dimitris Niflis, 12, solved by creating “really big feet.”

What Nya Jimenez, 11, liked most about working on the project was that Mr. Maier divided students into groups so they weren’t with their closest friends. That gave them an opportunity to get to know other better, she said.

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