Art classes create sculpture display in library


Meredith Bell

A sculpture built by sophomores Thalia Smith and Valentina Pirrone is displayed in the media center.

Meredith Bell

Using only scrap wood and glue, art teacher John Brandhorst’s Drawing I class created unique, gravity-defying sculptures, now on display in the media center. 

Throughout Brandhorst’s 23 years of teaching, he has made an effort to encourage students to use the resources available to them. The scene shop is a space located behind the auditorium that allows students to create art in all media. Much of the materials Brandhorst’s classes use are found in the scene shop after theater production sets have been stricken.

“Because we have the scene shop, there’s no shortage of scrap wood, so this is naturally a good use of all the materials,” Brandhorst said. “It’s a good challenge; for a lot of kids, making sculptures using materials like wood and glue and having to deal with engineering aspects isn’t something they’ve reckoned with.”

Before students began assembling their sculptures, they were shown a slideshow for background knowledge on the art of defying gravity. 

“We looked at a slideshow about stacking and about how one of the fundamental human processes is resisting gravity,” Brandhorst said. “There aren’t any other animals that stack things in a creative way, except for ants maybe. Doing this is essentially a human task, and so we talked about pyramids and how this is built into architecture ultimately into the 20th century up to what’s known as constructivist sculpture, which is very elemental.”

After viewing the slideshow, students picked out pieces of scrap wood from the scene shop and began planning their sculptures to glue and paint. The minimum height of the assembled wood scraps was 24 inches for students working alone and 36 inches for students working together. Sophomore Thalia Smith enjoyed the challenge and recognizes its individuality. 

“It’s supposed to defy gravity, and we couldn’t change the way the wood scraps were shaped,” Smith said. “Everybody in the class is doing it really differently; our base is going to be white and we’re doing squiggly designs with purple and blue. Other people in the class are doing the whole thing in one solid color or in multiple colors.”

Smith worked with sophomore Valentina Pirrone to create a 36-inch sculpture. The pair faced difficulties given what little materials they had. 

“The objective is to build as tall as you can, and it’s on a small square platform, so we can’t make it that wide,” Pirrone said. “Making parts of the sculpture’s stick was hard because we had to use glue that didn’t dry very quickly; it took a lot of patience.”

Brandhorst allowed students to customize their sculptures in terms of shape and color, but some materials were off limits. 

“Some kids wanted to use staples or hot glue, which I don’t like because it’s not a good material,” Brandhorst said. “How they filled the space was up to them; some of them are hollow on the inside, the challenge was to create an open space. Some of them are solid and built like pyramids stacked from solid stone.”

Students had the ability to challenge themselves further than the requirements. One sculpture works against gravity, which Brandhorst considers an impressive feat.

“There are some that are really risky,” Brandhorst said. “One of them is resisting 90 degree angles, which is not something the glue will support, so that’s a really risky and highly successful piece in my opinion.”

Brandhorst believes it is important to display the creations of his students because it provides validation and encourages an eclectic atmosphere.

“Without displaying, there’s no validation. It’s like a musician playing in the closet or a paper that’s unread,” Brandhorst said. “The library is already an artistic environment, this just keeps air in the balloon. There are so many places in this school that are beige, shiny and medical; this helps enrich the general atmosphere. We have a lot of fun places and neat things other schools don’t have, so I want to keep it fuzzy with people’s imaginations at work.”