Phillips Middle eighth-grade project culminates with sculpture

vbridges@newsobserver.comJune 1, 2014 

— Tiffany Jackson couldn’t wait for the official presentation to see the 8-foot-tall abstract sculpture that she helped design.

“I snuck up on Saturday,” said Tiffany, 14, to see the welded steel piece permanently installed at the front of her school, Phillips Middle. “It’s beautiful. I really like it.”

The sculpture, called “Three Birds,” was officially unveiled Tuesday in a ceremony that started with volunteers from the eighth-grade orchestra playing string instruments just outside the entrance to the school.

The sculpture and a companion exhibit were created through a collaboration that included 28 Phillips eighth-graders, two artists and an Artists-in-Residence commission from the town of Chapel Hill. “Three Birds” also commemorates Phillips’ 50th anniversary.

Since 2002, Chapel Hill has commissioned artists on 11 projects, ranging from about about $3,500 to $5,500, through the for Artists-in-Residence program, said Jeffrey York, the town’s public arts administrator.

The program brings professional artists into Chapel Hill-Carrboro classrooms to work with students and create original artwork. This year’s project cost about $4,000.

Other projects culminated with Smith Middle students making and performing with puppets and Ephesus Elementary students creating a mosaic sculpture.

In February, Mark Elliott, an abstract sculptor who lives near Pittsboro, started meeting with the art teacher Angela Greene’s class. Photographer Barbara Tyroler volunteered to document the process and taught a couple of sessions on photography.

Over the semester, students transformed drawings into three-dimensional representations built to scale with cardboard and a cutting tool. Students painted their models and wrote a statement explaining their thinking behind their pieces. Some created a poster documenting the process with Tyroler’s photographs and their own.

Elliott was impressed by the students’ eager response to the project. They were curious and persistent, he said.

“Their responses were so varied and exciting that I really was rather moved by that,” Elliott said.

Christopher Chao, 14, whose model resembled blades of grass, said the experience pushed him to explore his creative side.

Amegha Santosh, 13, whose model depicted three people holding hands, said she learned how color and texture can influence the way people react to a piece of art.

The art class nominated five projects, and those artists, along with town, school and district officials picked the winner, which was Tiffany’s design.

While Elliott built the piece, the students’ models, posters and reflective statements were featured in a 12-day show at the Franklin Street Arts Collective in Chapel Hill.

Tiffany’s statement about her piece said that she wanted it to be very abstract.

“I wanted people to look at it and create their own interpretation,” she wrote. “To me my sculpture looks like three flamingos together, but to others it may look like the eye of peacock or a heron.”

On Tuesday before the unveiling, Tiffany stood smiling and clenching her fists nervously as she spoke to the crowd.

“I still can’t believe it,” Tiffany said after the unveiling. “I am like in a daze.”

Her mother Rebekah Castillo was beaming as she documented the ceremony with her iPad camera.

“I didn’t know she was such the artist,” Castillo said. “I think I am going to pick up the old (artwork) she did.”

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