Report from Haddonfield

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I spent about an hour with my friend, artist Fran Gallun, and some students and teacher Tom Cook who worked together on an art project at Haddonfield Memorial High School.

The kids worked in teams of two or three to create five sculptures using coils of remesh from Home Depot as the armature, and in some cases, as an integral part of the finished product.

Well, not quite finished in most cases, but on their way. Theresa McGluaghlin was madly trying to catch up to the others, she and her partner Amanda Cossaboon having been waylaid by so many ideas that they put lost energy into work they eventually discarded. I loved their discards.

But while I was there, McGlaughlin was laboring in the hot sun, snipping the remesh (it’s kind of like giant hardware cloth for concrete reinforcement) with large wire cutters to create holes in the columns to accept a variety of ducts. McGlaughlin (shown working) was a little irritated with my questions, or maybe with her piece. “It’s just a thing,” she said, not so willing to say what her goal was.

Kelly Polman was attaching photos and paintings on the piece she and Katherine Koniges made–a postmodern, self-referential wonder. The kids made photos (shown top) of the sculpture, then paintings–brushy and loose–then paintings of the photos and then meta-meta-meta photos of the paintings.

Not only were the paintings and photos both swell, but the concept of opening up the remesh (left) to tumble out of iteself was pretty smart. I can’t say if the final product took off because it wasn’t complete, but the thinking here was worth it all. The piece was chock-a-block conceptual.

It was one of six pieces (one was by Gallun) that enlivened an otherwise rather weedy strip of land between a parking lot and the school building.

The liveliest-looking when I was there came from Abigail Schwartz, Sara Mussoline and Crystal Cheung–a sort of Mummer bird (right), its head not quite complete, a rough assortment of branches piercing the column below. The girls were also filling the column with rocks.

A banana embraced by a giant monkey (left) was not quite complete, a simple concept boldly created by Robert Glenn (on the banana) and Emre Ozdemir (on the monkey). It looked pretty promising when we propped the monkey in place, which Ozdemir had signed and copyrighted–he said it was a joke.

And speaking of apes, King Kong, made of outdoor carpeting, was mounted on a metal flashing Empire State Building by Cale Krise and Katherine Chiumento.

I especially liked “The End,” just in case you thought it wasn’t about the movie. But also end of the school year? End of high school? This was one of two completed pieces when I got there.

The other was a kind of temple, painted gold with big metal flashing bamboo leaves hanging off, a red flashing obi around the base with some Asian words painted on, and best of all, a surprise inside, a temple bell (shown) hanging from the top, the clapper hung with Asian coins–those round ones with squares cut out of the center. Students Alison Aminto and Jennifer Manning made this one.

Gallun herself, “the self-declared column queen,” who has a great way with color, went all out painting her own remesh column to death, not to mention her leafy branch arabesques plus critters from air and land. The branches were attached with those plastic ratchet ties and swayed in the wind, the colors and patterns holding their space among the grass and flowers and weeds.

There’s all this talk about how important sports are for all the ways they teach young people to cooperate and work as a team. But this project beat sports any day.

The kids had to collaborate and communicate. They had to work toward finishing a project and make it stand up to the elements. They learned about materials and ways to fasten things and solve problems. My guess is they probably had to do a little math to figure out how much material they’d need to get their projects done. They all had moments of thinking outside the box and being creative. Plus, they made something that will last for a while.

So congratulations to Gallun, Cook, but mostly to the kids for working so hard and thinking so hard. And this is just one art program. I’m still trying to understand why the arts are the first things to get axed whenever Philadelphia hits a budget shortfall.

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