PHS students wrapped up in their work

February 22, 2013

Ryan Scott Ottney

PDT Staff Writer

Students at Portsmouth High School are wrapped up in a new art project, creating life-size sculptures with packing tape and newspaper. Once finished in April, the art will be on public display at locations throughout the city.

“We are working on a public art walk concept. It’s going to encompass a series of 13 different sculptures which will feature 23 different life-sized figures made of packing tape. The students are in the process of building those and they use each other as the molds. They’re starting at the feet and begin to wrap up,” said high school art teacher April Deacon.

Each of the 13 sculptures, she said will represent one aspect of community. They will be literature (with a sculpture of a man reading a newspaper and a woman reading a book), music (musicians playing), art (an artist painting), love (a couple holding hands), parenting (a woman with a baby in a stroller), youth (a child with a balloon), family (a family on a picnic), wisdom of elders (an elderly man with a cane), faith (a figure kneeling with their arms up in the air), health and exercise (a figure playing basketball), safety (a police officer), education (graduates), and environment.

Deacon said the class chose the topics together. Some ideas, such as communication (expressed by a man on a pay phone), were rejected by the class, she said, while other students recommended faith as a topic.

“They were really sensitive to the fact that that’s different for everyone, so I think that’s really neat,” Deacon said.

Students spend several days of class being wrapped in tape by their classmates, and some even use their study hall period to work a little more. The first layer goes on backwards, so it doesn’t stick to the student. After that, three layers are applied to make the sculpture solid. They start with the legs and work their way up the body, but the heads are molded using a mannequin. After being wrapped entirely in tape, the students are cut out of the mold.

All of the accessories will sculpted and shaped using copies of the Portsmouth Daily Times newspaper, and wrapped in tape to protect them from the weather.

Portsmouth Sophomore Tanaia Underwood was the first to complete her full-body molding. She described the uncomfortable situation of being wrapped in layers and layers of packing tape.

“It was a little tight. Around my arms was the most part that hurt because there was hair and stuff. And when they got around my neck it kind of pulled my hair a little bit, but the rest was fine,” she said. “I think it took two periods, and then a little bit the next day. We just finished my hand.”

Tanaia was modeling for the child’s sculpture in the family exhibit.

“There’s a mom, a dad, a baby, a kid, and there’s another boy we’re going to wrap,” she said, laughing. The baby was molded using a baby doll as the form.

Portsmouth Senior Jacqueline Lester is working on the literature exhibit, and was wrapping a dictionary in packing tape to shape the book her sculpture will be holding.

“We have two girls from a study hall that volunteered (to model for the sculptures),” Lester said. “I like working with the tape, but I really love sculpting. I think it’s really cool to look at the human form not really in detail but kind of like people doing everyday things.”

Once completed, the sculptures will be placed at 13 locations throughout the community for the public to enjoy. The first one, literature, will be located on the Esplanade in downtown Portsmouth. From there they will be staggered along Gallia Street to the school property and onto the baseball and football fields. Maps will be available for public walking tours.

“There’s going to be several different methods, depending on the grouping, of how we actually place these in the environment. One thing we are going to try is sand in their feet. We also are going to build stands out of wood with dowel rods to hold them up. The hardest ones will be the ones on the sidewalk, or on a hard surface like the basketball court. That will be tricky,” Deacon said.

Along with the sculptures, Deacon said students from a Portsmouth High School English class is also writing a poem or essay to accompany each piece.

“One of the things I’m supposed to teach is how art connects to our society and our community, so I sort of thought this was a really good direction. I think we could use it, that strengthening of community. It was just great to listen to them discuss what was important,” Deacon said.

Sculptures will be on public display from April 8-12, and Deacon said there might be a public opening ceremony at that time but they have not planned that far ahead yet. When and if that happens, she said, it will be announced through the Portsmouth Daily Times.

Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or rottney@civitasmedia.com.