Article in the Isthmus Newspaper by Erica Krug

Kelsey and Zuri, both 8, kneel on the tile floor as they inspect a large screen that has been cut into the shape of an owl.

The owl stares up with iridescent eyes made from discarded CDs. The girls explain how they are testing the strength of the wire they will use to attach bunches of keys to the owl’s mesh torso. “When the wind blows, it will jangle the keys so it makes a cool wind chime sound,” says Kelsey. “But we don’t want the keys to fly off.”

Zuri and Kelsey are part of Lapham Elementary School’s afterschool “Buildementary” outdoor sculpture club, an idea dreamed up by Jessica Becker, an east-side resident and Lapham parent. Becker, along with Helen Sarakinos, organized Yahara Reflections, a temporary art installation project along the Yahara River during the summer of 2014.

That project was well received, so Becker wanted to do it again, but with art produced by children. She asked Amy Mietzel, owner of Bare Knuckle Arts on Winnebago Street and a former public school art teacher, if she would lead the project. “I pitched it to Amy, and she understood it immediately and shaped it,” says Becker.

With an artist-in-residence on board and the enthusiastic support of Lapham’s principal, Becker secured a grant from Madison Arts Commission and got additional funding from community groups and businesses. Finally, the Madison Parks Division approved displaying the sculptures. “All the pieces came together,” says Becker.

The 12-week extracurricular club began in February and is free for all 20 Lapham first- and second-graders. Mietzel began the project by showing the children pictures of public art around the world and in Madison, including works by Sid Boyum, Erika Koivunen and Chris Murphy, who helped to build the Statue of Liberty on Lake Mendota in 1979.

The students met with three artists, including Murphy, and then sketched designs for their own sculptures. Next the students partnered up and had to decide on one of their designs, or, as in the case of Marlo and Florian, combine their ideas.

“I wanted to do an orca whale and Florian wanted to do a pizza,” says Marlo, 7. “We decided to work together and make a pizza orca.” Tannah Bauman, a volunteer from the UW Art Education department, is helping Marlo and Florian cut wire to attach lids of metal cans that have been painted red (the pepperoni) for their piece, “Porca.” “It’s definitely a true collaboration in every sense of the word,” says Bauman.

Whether it’s a life-sized gummy bear or a winking apple, all of the art is being made with reclaimed materials, except for the screening and duct tape. Mietzel says her idea for the sculptures is “rooted deeply in upcycling” or “the creative reuse of useless waste materials and the transformation of these materials into a piece of art.” Noting that it takes hundreds of years for these items to degrade, Mietzel says that she wanted to get the Lapham students thinking about how waste materials can be used in beautiful ways. “These kids have embraced it,” Mietzel says.

Once the students are done constructing the sides of their sculpture, they will be attached back-to-back and filled with recycled plastic to create 3D sculptures. After a sneak preview of the work-in-progress at Bare Knuckle Arts, 1949 Winnebago St., on Friday, May 5, for Gallery Night, the 10 sculptures will be installed by the end of May on seven-foot poles along the Yahara River between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota and spend the summer among the trees.

MMoCA Spring Gallery Night in Madison is Friday May 5th from 5-9 pm. Join us at Bare Knuckle Arts to get a sneak peak of a series of sculptures designed by the Lapham Buildementary Sculpture Club. 1st & 2nd graders from Lapham Elementary have been working since February to create upcycled sculptures that will be installed in the Yahara Parkway through the summer of 2017.

Lapham Buildementary: Outdoor Sculptures by Kids is a 12-week exploration of public art and sculpture in an after-school club. Led by artist and art educator Amy Mietzel (owner of Bare Knuckles Arts), 1st and 2nd Grade Lapham students will consider local examples of public art, work with a few guest artists, and design and build sculptures in small groups. The students' work-in-progress will be on display during Gallery Night at Bare Knuckle Arts on Winnebago Street on Friday, May 5th and finished works will be displayed along the Yahara River in the summer.  This amazing opportunity is funded by a grant from the Madison Arts Commission with support from the Marquette Neighborhood Association, the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association, and the Lapham Parent Teacher Group. Writer and organizer of this project is Jessica Becker an arts advocate for the city of Madison who has created several inspiring projects within the city of Madison including Reflections from the Banks of the Yaharra River and Reynold Park Projects.  Read more about these successes on her blog Between Two Lakes.

 Lapham Buildementary: Outdoor Sculptures by Kids