One Person’s Trash Is a Student’s Art

At Hill Center’s Young Artists Gallery

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Bottlecap reproduction of a Jacob Lawrence painting.

A family visit to the National Zoo in the summer of 2016 to see “Washed Ashore” was the inspiration for the Junk Art Club at Eliot-Hine Middle School (1830 Constitution Ave. NE). “Washed Ashore” is an exhibit of massive sculptures made entirely of marine debris collected along the coast of Oregon. Having seen the exhibit, club leader Suzanne Wells, an avid recycler, couldn’t resist the idea of working with students to “create something beautiful out of something destined for a landfill.”

The club is an afterschool activity, begun last school year, which involves a small group of sixth- and seventh-grade students, including Wells’ daughter Elizabeth Godec. Wells searches internet sites to get ideas for using materials she has found. The club’s first project was a map of the United States with the outline of each state cut from a cereal box.

Following that, the students created a bottlecap reproduction of a Jacob Lawrence painting from his “Migration”. Club members saved bottlecaps from home and scored a big bag from the Indian restaurant Indigo. In keeping with their efforts to “reuse and recycle” they used paints they had on hand. In the words of seventh-grader Malia Weedon, “I care about the environment, and this is a fun way to help the environment. Projects tend to be more inventive when you use trash. When you work with trash you work with what you find, and you have to be creative with how you use it.”

The discovery of a cache of Ikea bed slats, set out for garbage, inspired an “eye project,” a series based on a community art project at North Park University in Chicago. Students paired up to paint each other’s eyes on the slats, creating mini-portraits. Sixth-grader Annika Crawford observed: “I decided to be in the Junk Art Club because I like art. Art is my imagination. I take creations from my mind and put them on paper. The eye project was great because you got to look at different people and draw them the way you see them.”

Yet another use of found materials is the collection of painted hubcaps gleaned from gutters and sidewalks. A collection of painted hubcaps currently decorates a fence on the Eliot-Hine campus. Additional examples are included in the show. Wells, who is also an avid cyclist, found most of the hubcaps during her regular rides on and around Capitol Hill. Others were donated by fellow “trash hounds” and friends. Rust-Oleum spray paint was used as a base coat, with a liquid metal acrylic paint on top. When purchases are necessary, Wells funds them herself, but costs are kept low because so much of the material is donated or reclaimed.

Wells hopes visitors to “One Person’s Trash Is a Student’s Art” “will be inspired to find ways to reduce waste and think about how something might be reused before it is thrown in the trash.” If you see your hubcap in the exhibit, the club will be happy to return it when the exhibit closes at the end of the summer.

Hill Center is located at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. The Young Artists Gallery is on the ground floor, east of the main staircase.