“That’s really good, it’s really great,” Kevin Reese said to a student who had just painted a mobile piece during Wednesday’s art class at Floyd C. Fretz Middle School.
The students’ smaller pieces were painted colors such as bright yellow, orange, blue, purple and black and will be used for the creation of larger hanging mobiles. The larger mobiles will be strung from the ceiling near the stairwell outside the large group instruction room on Friday.
The kinetic sculptures, built by Reese and 110 seventh- and eighth-grade art students and enrichment students, will also be unveiled for the public.
Fretz art teacher Janelle Turk said the project is part of the School Sculptures Art Residency program. The project is the result of a collaboration between the Bradford Area School District and the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford Arts Kaleidoscope Series, as well as a grant from the Elk County Council on the Arts.
Reese, of SchoolSculptures with Kevin Reese, L.L.C., in Washington, D.C., works with students throughout the country and world creating mobiles. Reese said his work is inspired by American artist Alexander Calder, who invented the mobile in the 1930s.
“This is my 164th installation (of hanging mobiles) in 29 states,” Reese said of his school projects that began in 2001. “I did one in Taipei, Taiwan, as well.”
As energetic as the students he instructed, Reese paused only seconds between each youngster as he inspected the paint jobs on each of the mobile pieces.
“They are all very serious, because painting is a very serious thing,” Reese said while moving about the room faster than the seventh-graders. “They’re painting this for keeps, they know it’s not going anywhere for years to come, so it can’t be sloppy.”
The artist wasn’t as particular with paint that slopped on large t-shirts provided to each student to cover their school clothes. Reese said he takes thetT-shirts from school to school for children to wear, therefore each is decorated with dots, blobs and streaks of color.
“Most of (the paint shirts) are anointed with different places — this is Cambria Elementary in Arlington, Va.,” he said while pointing to a paint-splotched shirt worn by a youngster. “The shirts are part of the art (project) as well.”
Reese said each mobile piece is made of foam core to make the larger mobile creations lightweight.
“A mobile that is stretching out seven or eight feet and dropping 10 feet” will be light thanks to the foam core pieces, he said. “If it weighs six pounds, I’ll be surprised — but it will look like it weighs 50 pounds.”
He said throughout the week, the art students in each of Turk’s classes first applied a flameproof agent to the mobile pieces, followed by two coats of acrylic paint.
Turk said the week-long sessions with Reese have not only been beneficial for the students, but also for her.
“I’ve learned so much working with Kevin, he’s phenomenal and a very talented man,” Turk said. “The kids collaborate together, and they’re working with somebody from outside of the school and solving problems together.”
She said all of the students paint and work on mobiles that have been created by students in other classes, making it truly a group project. The process included drawing the designs, creating mock designs, class critiques and group decisions for changes in the designs. The kinetic mobiles, which have to be designed and balanced properly to spin, involves math and physics, topics touched on by Reese with the students.
Turk said she believes the large mobiles will change the whole atmosphere of the entrance to the large group instruction room, which is often used or seen by the public.
Art students who commented on the project include Jack Tim, who was painting a mobile at a table with other seventh-graders.
“I like that we’re able to paint with somebody who is famous,” Tim said.
Student Mackenzie Lucas added, “I think it’s really cool that we’re all doing something together to make something bigger.”
Another student, Sydney Rodgers, said she enjoyed working with the guest artist.
“We have guest authors, so it’s fun to have a guest artist” for a change, she said.
Brookelyn Teeter said she, too, enjoyed working with Reese.
“The most exciting part was to have somebody come all the way from Washington just to interact with the kids,” Teeter said. “He’s been patient with us and the mobiles are turning out just perfect.”