by Paula M Riley
Once upon a time, people considered Penn Charter a private school just for athletes. Today, the oldest Quaker school in the world is showing that it’s not just a school for sports, but a school that tries to cater to the whole student.
One example is “Arts + Re-Creation,” an invitational exhibition and sale currently at Penn Charter, showcasing environmentally inspired fine art created by established and emerging artists and students.
A team of parent volunteers, many of them artists themselves, transformed Penn Charter’s Old Gym into an amazing gallery space with student art work complimenting the variety of work using natural elements, found objects or inspired by the natural world. The show is timed and themed to coincide with Earth Week and includes an electronic waste recycling drive.
Sculptor Leo Sewell is well known for the replica of the Statue of Liberty’s arm and torch created from discarded toys. This huge sculpture sits at the entrance to the Please Touch Museum. On exhibit in “Arts + Re-Creation” is Sewell’s “Boxer,” created in the shape of the beloved dog using an eclectic combination of found brass objects. Also available at the show is “Bison,” featuring a colorful collection of discarded items.
Sewell said that he grew up next door to a junkyard and developed a passion for playing with trash and creating new objects from it. When asked about his approach, he explained, “It’s just as Edison described, ‘2 percent inspiration and 98 percent perspiration’.”
Exhibiting artist Ellen Benson said she shared Sewell’s affection for refuse.
“I’m a Dumpster Diva,” she said. “Everything (I find) is material.”
Philadelphia Dumpster Divas focuses on re-using castoff pieces of the world around to make found object art. Her display of talisman figures garnered much attention.
“Talisman to Protect My Computer from Crashing” is made of a computer’s memory board and the thistle of a paintbrush. “Play Blue” is a light blue baseball glove decorated with other found objects in the shape of a face, with fishing lures for eyebrows and door hardware for eyes.
Ann Zahn’s work uses items created in nature. Her “Tulips and Peony Garden” is nothing short of stunning. She makes this (size) linoleum cut and collage by creating paper from leaves of plants in her garden, such as rhubarb, iris, daylily, and chrysanthemum. She tears these leaves, boils them in lye and dries each upon cheesecloth in the sun. This creates wonderful natural cuts that are printed on paper made from the plants. The tulips in her work are as bright as those in the garden.
Other artists, such as Meg Cundiff, are exhibiting whimsical collages made of recycled papers. Her “Nature” piece features cut paper, pencils, acrylics, and leaves. Leah Macdonald’s encaustic photography is created using only organic material such as wax, silver, water, cotton pigment and light. These are interesting creations of photography and painting, which seem to change each time they are viewed.
Scattered throughout the work of these talented artists are the creations of Penn Charter’s own budding artists. The fifth grade class worked together to create different versions of the school’s landmark bell tower. This project was carefully organized with students taking on roles such as CEO, set-up and clean-up person, material person or document person. Students’ final projects used mixed media, candy wrappers, words of William Penn or natural elements to create the bell tower.
Head of School Dr. Darryl Ford said art was a vital part of the school’s curriculum.
“Arts + Re-Creation speaks to the education students receive at Penn Charter,” he said. “Arts and athletics are not extra curricular here, they are co-curricular. Our students have to do them for coursework and have to work to move on to the next level. This speaks to their importance at our school.”
The show also speaks to the supportive parent population at Penn Charter. Lynne Dorman, ceramic artist/educator was the parent chair of the art show.
“We hope to educate and excite the viewer through works that repurpose materials to create art as well as pieces that honor the beauty, diversity and fragility of the environment,” she said.
Her goal was to raise the visibility of the arts at Penn Charter and to tie the show’s 232 pieces to environmental awareness as well.
“We are all trying to figure out how to reduce our carbon footprint,” Ford said. “This helps us be more aware of the environment and encourages our students to reconnect with nature and to ‘re-create’ outside.”
The students’ artwork represents this developing connection. Penn Charter ninth graders created a Contemporary Bestiary in their foundation arts course – an interdisciplinary visual arts, theater arts and music course – and some of their work is included in the show. Graphics, collages, photographs, animations, paintings, puppets and radio plays celebrating various beasts make up the three volume Contemporary Bestiary e-book that will soon be published.
Proceeds from the Arts + Re-creation fund visiting artists and eco-friendly initiatives. On Monday and Tuesday, artist Dewey Blocksma worked with students creating wind machines from recycled plastics bottles and whirligigs. Blocksma’s “Young Abe,” a figure of the beloved president with a body made of Lincoln Logs and topped with a pencil jar wrapped in a world map, is part of the main exhibit.
Blocksma is thrilled to be part of the show and hopes each student reacts differently to his work.
“I hope viewers bring their own experience and react to what they see,” he said. “There is not one story or one narrative. I hope they build their own narrative of what makes it (a piece) work.”
“Arts + Re-Creation” is free and open to public from 7:45 – 10 a.m. and from 2 – 4:30 p.m. The electronic waste drive is open to anyone attending the show, and the e-waste drive is also open to the community on Sunday, April 21, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. For more information about the show or the e-waste drive, visit www.penncharter.com/artshow or call 215-844-3460.