WESTBROOK — While most high school students sat down for a day of standardized tests earlier this month, the seniors left their pencils behind and spent the day weaving sculptures with community artist Pamela Moulton.
Their sculptures will be featured in this summer’s Art All Around installation, a large-scale public art exhibition spearheaded by the Maine Center for Creativity that will be in downtown Westbrook from June 16-25.
As the seniors filed into the Westbrook Armory for the day’s workshop, some teachers and staff were skeptical the event would be a success. “You do realize that you’re working with high school students?” Moulton recalls one teacher asking her. “Everyone was really quite concerned that it was going to be chaos, and that we weren’t going to be able to engage the kids.”
These concerns turned out to be unfounded.
“It was beautiful to watch,” said Johanna Albanese, a project coordinator for the school district who was central to planning the day. “To see them collaborate and figure out: When I leave here what am I going to remember? What does Westbrook mean to me?”
The sculptures will be returned to the high school after the Art All Around exhibit, so the event also was an opportunity for students to give something back as they prepare for the end of their high school careers.
The students divided into 15 teams, each with a large piece of netting through which they could weave fabrics to create their sculptures. They were given a wealth of assorted materials to work with: rope fibers, yarn, fuzzy fabrics and even cut-up sweaters.
Moulton showed the students images of public art projects from around the world — an enormous picnic blanket, a gas station covered in quilts — and her own large-scale weavings. Then she showed them photographs of the Westbrook riverfront, where their pieces will be displayed during the Art All Around exhibit.
The students were encouraged to draw inspiration from the photographs, but were also told they had the freedom to make their sculptures about anything they wanted.
At least one group took this flexibility to heart, opting to make a portrait of local legend Wessie, the snake that was all the buzz in the city last summer. Another group immortalized Westbrook with a “W” symbol, and a third weaved a spiraling impression of the smoke stacks coming off the mills.
Westbrook High School is one of 20 organizations partnering with the Maine Center for Creativity for the Art All Around installation. All five Westbrook public schools are participating, along with numerous nonprofits and government offices. At least 500 people are involved.
The installation will be centered in Blue Note Park. It will extend along the Main Street sidewalk and possibly along the pedestrian bridge as well. Among the pieces to be featured are identity flags, papier-mâché words in various languages, and quilts.
James Jelin is an American Journal contributor.
Westbrook High School seniors depicted Wessie the snake in their sculpture.
Mill smokestacks were the inspiration of this student piece.
Students wove a W for Westbrook in this fiber sculpture.
High school seniors used a variety of materials to create their weavings.