Another Person’s Treasure
Inventive teens reincarnate trash into art
by Carrie Steele
Dumpster diving wasn’t part of the class assignment, but Maryland teens raided trashcans, recycling bins and the castoff collections of friends and neighbors, all for the sake of art.
Their gallery was the industrial-feeling Maryland Department of Environment building on the southern edge of Baltimore. Broken CDs, Barbie parts, old silverware, a beat-up skateboard and stacks of Heinz ketchup bottles made up the 41 works of art displayed and judged there November 18.
Some 51 high schoolers from across the state had spent months creating art from such oddments for the 4th Annual America Recycles Day, called Rethink Recycling, where they competed for such teen-friendly prizes as a flat-screen TV and a portable DVD player.
Juniors Kirsty Ferri, a guitarist by hobby, and Caitlyn Blair, both of Broadneck High School earned the top prize a flat-screen TV that they haven’t figured out how to divide. Their first-prize winning sculpture was a realistic-looking guitar built from cardboard, soda cans, wood flooring scraps, hangers, wire and paper fasteners.
In these art works, plastic water bottles and soda cans were plentiful, as were wire and scrap wood.
“Skateboarding’s one of my interests, so I figured we’d try and go with the flow of what we like,” said junior D.J. Griffin, also from Broadneck, who built a five-foot-high sculpture of a boardslide that’s a skateboarder riding his board diagonally down a PVC pipe that rested on three stairs. “We literally found the materials right behind the school in the dumpster by the art room.” His skateboarder even wore kneepads and a helmet.
“This stuff can definitely be used for something else rather than thrown away,” he said.
Farther south, the Calvert County School Board wouldn’t let Patuxent high schoolers travel to the competition. So teacher Tina Ditmars brought her students’ folding chair and table. The aluminum chair frame was re-woven with metal from soda cans and decorated with plastic bags; the tabletop was made from a discarded Target cushion with a broken zipper, supported by soda can legs.
“I went to the Appeal Landfill, scouting to see what I could find,” said Ditmars, whose nine 10th, 11th and 12th graders worked for three weeks on their recycled furniture. She took them home the award for workmanship. “The chair can even hold a light person,” she added.
As we talked, Shirley Steffey from Appeal Landfill strolled by, amazed to see what art could come from her landfill.
Students used materials both easy and hard to reuse or recycle.
Tina Ditmars, of Patuxent High School, took her students’ folding chair and table to the contest. The aluminum chair frame was re-woven with metal from soda cans.
“Like those broken DVDs they’re really hard to recycle,” said Steffey, who does a lot of presentations to kids about saving natural resources by recycling. “And this chair what are you going to do with that when it loses its webbing? If something can live a little longer, why not?” she asked.
Walk past a swan with life-like feathers cut from a milk jug, a curvy female form made entirely of used cigarette butts (which give off a slight odor as you walk by) and the model car shining with the reflective surfaces of broken CDs, and you’ll see a giant hand (some four feet wide) made of crushed clear plastic water bottles taped together.
“You can get a lot of ideas from using recycled stuff,” says inspired Old Mill High Schooler Hanbit Hong, who created a flowing, fancy dress by gathering together dry cleaning bags and trimming his garb with ribbons and bows to look like it’s fitting a dressmaker’s form.
Awarding the four prizes was Department of Environment secretary Kendl Philbrick, who judged with Maryland, Delaware and D.C. Press Association’s president George White and Maryland Institute College of Art’s Hugh Pocock.
“I’m blown away,” said White. “The effort put into this was astounding.”
Each school received a certificate from Philbrick, framed in a reused rubber bike tire.
Laura Jerousek, a junior from C. Milton Wright High School in Harford, summed up the message of her sculpture: “If we don’t learn to recycle, there won’t be anything left.”
“The creativity is outstanding. This is common stuff we throw away every day,” said Philbrick, whose department’s recycled sculpture contest was its biggest ever at 40 entries this year.
Junior Laura Jerousek, from C. Milton Wright High School in Harford, took her art a step beyond fun to make a pointed message.
“If we don’t learn to recycle, there won’t be anything left,” she said, standing beside a board filled with paper scraps, cans, bottles and litter, all underneath a skeleton made of foam packing peanuts. “This project really made me realize we throw away a lot of stuff.”