All dressed in blue and black, and giggling, the entire student body of Vinalhaven School huddled together on the baseball outfield on the morning of October 1. To an average bystander the students and staff may have looked like a disorganized mass, but from above one could see they formed the shape of a blue lobster; they were making Art for the Sky.
The creation of a lobster using people was the culmination of a week-long unit integrating math, science and art.
Earlier in the week Diane Cowan, of the Lobster Conservancy, visited the school in connection with the science aspect of the project. She introduced students in grades K-8 to the biology of a lobster.
Third-grade teacher Heather White felt Cowan’s presentation was valuable. “She brought lobsters and went over the parts of its body and cool lobster facts.” The students “really liked it and learned some things that surprised them. One thing they really thought was neat was how a lobster’s antennae are as long as its body so it can probe them into openings to see if it will fit.” Cowan and her lobsters also spent time with high school art students, giving them time to draw the crustacean using live models.
Art for the Sky artist Daniel Dancer joined the project, giving presentations on his previous work to the students and community. Dancer has traveled the world helping schools and other organizations create temporary larger than-life-images using “human paint drops.” Students prepared for Dancer’s arrival in a variety of ways. According to second-grade teacher Samantha Carter, grades K-2 explored Dancer’s website (www.artforthesky.com) to look at other projects he had done. In addition, students in grades K-5 learned Dancer’s original song “Wings to Fly” in music classes. “They loved practicing the song and singing along with Daniel,” said Carter. “Grades 1 and 2 even serenaded Daniel through the window while he was working on the lobster pattern outside!”
Art teacher Erica Hansen had a clear vision of what she wanted her students to get out of the project. “I wanted the students to take part in an ecologically reflective artwork, work collaboratively, and create something that would inspire their community to think of themselves in relation to their environment,” she said.
To that end, high school and middle school art classes spent time learning about ecological artwork and studying modernist land artists Robert Smithson, Mel Chin, Brandon Balangee and Mark Dion. “Students compared the artist’s intentions and means, creating their own definition of ecological artwork: Art making that takes from and gives back to the ecosystem it is created in/for.”
Later, high school art classes worked on the design and concept for the piece, incorporating math by using a grid to enlarge their image. Middle school students designed the use and organization of materials. Most of Dancer’s previous work used several hundred people, as many as 900. Vinalhaven School’s project had around 200 people to work with, so the middle school students organized the use of blue tarps, seaweed and rope to augment the number of people.
On the day of the artwork, Dancer stood approximately 60 feet above the crowd in the raised bucket of a bucket truck, giving directions, filming the process and photographing the final result. The next day he presented the student body with a video of the entire project, emphasizing the impermanence of this art form. “Overall, it was a hit with the little kids,” said Carter. First grader Corey Lazaro said, “It was fun because we got to scrunch down,” she said. “I liked it.”
“Visually I do think they were able to make a connection to when they were on the ground in a large mass, and how the photo turned out,” said White. “They had a good time trying to pick out where they were in the actual photo.”
Katrina Osgood, a fourth grader, was part of the tail. “I thought it was fun,” she said, “But I couldn’t find myself in the picture. I liked seeing [school leader] Mr. Felton go up in the crane [bucket].”
Some high school students were a bit disappointed with the end result, as their original design was modified for the final piece. Sloane Ewell is a senior art student. Though she did not work on the student lobster design, she felt the one used could have been improved. “I thought it was a cool idea,” she said, “but they could have relied less on the tarps and more on the students,” by making a smaller image. However, Ewell conceded that in the end “it was a little better than I thought it would be.”
Most important, “in the end the students felt ownership of the piece,” said Hansen. Despite any dissatisfaction, according to Vinalhaven School Enrichment Committee coordinator Keely Felton, the main goal of the project was met: “To have the entire student body take part in the project and have it be a unifying experience.”
The final image of the lobster will be used by VSEC in future fundraising campaigns. The Vinalhaven School Enrichment Committee sponsored this project with help from the Island Institute.