Homer Middle School art students are learning a powerful lesson about environmental footprints and collaboration with a giant art project destined to become a permanent installation at the school.
Led by art teacher Ingrid McKinstry and working in collaboration with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and local artist Lynn Naden, students are building a giant Husky mascot from marine debris collected on Alaska shores.
Marine debris is the trash that’s littering oceans and beaches causing serious harm to the fish and wildlife it encounters. It’s a planet-wide problem that causes animals to become entangled in fishing lines and nets and allows animals to mistake trash for food. Marine debris also can act as a raft for foreign plants and animals to invade new soils.
CACS leads a beach cleanup every year to remove debris from the beaches of Kachemak Bay. A few years ago, CACS met Angela Haseltine Pozzi, founder of The Washed Ashore Project, an Oregon-based nonprofit that educates and creates awareness about marine debris and plastic pollution through art. Inspired by what they heard, CACS invited Pozzi to Homer and, together, they created a satellite program.
“We approached Homer Middle School about making a sculpture of their Husky mascot out of marine debris,” explained Loretta Brown, the marine debris program coordinator at CACS. “We knew the middle school didn’t have a sculpture of their mascot and we saw an opportunity to work with students to bring one to life while teaching a powerful lesson about the health of our oceans.”
The school was interested. The principal sought and received approval for the project from the borough and construction got underway in February.
Two students, Rachael Doan and Mady Gerard, were recruited from Homer High School’s welding class to weld the Husky’s architecture based on a plan drawn up by the middle school art students with help from artist Lynn Naden.
“It was the biggest project they’d ever done,” says Brown. “When they finished the frame, they transported it to the middle school and a new group of students took over.”
While the frame was being welded, middle school students were hard at work selecting, washing and sorting the marine debris that was delivered to the school by CACS.
“It was challenging at first for everyone to agree on what to do,” said Rainy Salco, one of McKinstry’s seventh-grade art students.
“It was pretty cool to see the teamwork and collaboration,” said McKinstry. “It wasn’t an immediate success, the group had to follow an idea and if it didn’t work, regroup and try it again.”
Lynn Naden, who was hired as an art consultant for CACS, helped the students along the way by teaching them about the sculpting process and the magnitude of the marine debris problem the world is facing.
“It’s really neat to see students taking on a project of this magnitude,” said Naden.
“The initial process of sorting and washing debris taught them so much about where the trash on our beaches is coming from and how hard it is to get rid of. Some of the bottles we used in our sculpture floated ashore from the Beijing Olympics.”
“This project taught us how much marine debris is in the water and how it affects our planet,” said Ian Stovall, one of the many students working on the Husky sculpture.
“It’s not every day you get a chance to work on such an important project,” adds Shane Coleman, another of McKinstry’s students. “It’s an interesting way to show that trash can be made into a thing of beauty.”
The sculpture will be unveiled in the fall, after students put the final touches on the Husky’s body and install it permanently in front of the school building.
Sarah Richardson is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.