For the past two years, students in Steve Loar’s Three-Dimensional Design class have made animal sculptures from recycled plastics. Over the summer, Loar took a group of students to Andros Island, Bahamas, to collect trash from the beach and transform it into art. (Keith Boyer photo; click on any image for a larger version)
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Two years ago, Department of Art professor Steve Loar introduced a project in his Three-Dimensional Design class that involved creating sculptures from old laundry detergent bottles, milk jugs, and other recycled plastics.
Loar described it as “living the late-sixties dream—teaching design but also bringing the values of recycling to art.”
That dream resulted in an art exhibit, Animals in Your Trash, at the local recycling center in fall 2008. Since then, according to Loar, everything about the project has grown: the complexity of the students’ sculptures, interest in the project, donations of plastic—and even Loar’s vision of what the project could become.
Over the summer, Loar and a select group of students headed to Andros Island, in the Bahamas, to collect trash from the beach and transform it into art. The three-week study-abroad program, Recycling the Beach, culminated in an exhibit of the students’ artwork in Nassau.
Combing the beach for materials during their first days on Andros Island, the students quickly found that working with beach plastic would be far different from working with recycled plastics back at IUP.
“You would touch it, and it would crumble,” sophomore Aly Crouse said of the beach plastic. “You had to be really careful with it.”
In her Three-Dimensional Design class, she made a peacock out of detergent bottles that she brought in or that she retrieved from the recycling center. On the beach, the students found lots of net, oil containers, plastic crates, and other bigger pieces of plastic, Crouse said. They found no two-liter bottles, which they relied on heavily at IUP.
In addition to the brittleness and scratches, another challenge of the beach plastic for junior Roxanne Hotaling was that she didn’t recognize it.
“There were no labels, and you didn’t come across a bumpy, orange piece of plastic and know it was a Tide bottle,” Hotaling said.
That presented a challenge because, in her previous class projects, Hotaling used labels and bottle parts that her audience would recognize. As a result, they would first take in the overall piece, she said, and then connect with the colors and labels they associate with specific products.
But, that challenge fit in with the different directive for Recycling the Beach. Rather than make a fantasy animal or an animal they were familiar with, the students were asked to study books about the reef and make creatures native to the Bahamas. And, of course, the audience for the show in Nassau would be far different from the audience in Pennsylvania.
“You didn’t know what products or brands they use in their home,” Hotaling said. “It was a cultural experience.”
The students worked in a thatched hut in hundred-degree temperatures and amid the pestering of mosquitoes, but soon their creatures started to take shape: dentist fish, sea horses, an octopus, night heron, stingray, and more.
They were also joined in their workshops by a Bahamian woman, Michele Evans—one of many local artists who made jewelry from coconuts and attempted to sell it to tourists.
“Our goal was to show her techniques and inspire her in that week or two, and then she could go on as an artist,” Loar said. “The idea was that the materials are free, they’re all around her, and the tools are very inexpensive.”
As an Art Education major, Hotaling appreciated the opportunity to explain things to Evans—like two-dimensional vs. three-dimensional, symmetry, and balance—as well as learn from Evans some of the techniques she used in making coconut jewelry. “Our conversations as artists and educators were really interesting,” Hotaling said.
Eventually, Loar hopes to expand on these kinds of collaborations by bringing artists from other cultures who work with recyclables to IUP to share ideas and techniques.
Loar hopes to expand on these kinds of collaborations
Having cleared some of the beaches on Andros Island—and even experimenting with building a tree house from the beach plastic—Loar naturally began thinking about future territory to cover. In the Bahamas, he was told, “There are six hundred islands here. You could probably go to any one.”
Loar has no doubt. He serves as project leader for One Island: Art as Environmental Remediation, a university-based research project that focuses on the idea of saving the planet, one island at a time.
“My impression is that this is everywhere,” Loar said of the solid waste on the beach. “There is no escaping this. And, whether you go to Japan or England or France or Spain, it’s going to be there.”
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