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Lapham Buildementary: Outdoor Sculptures by Kids

Lapham Buildementary is a twelve-week after school club for 20 first and second grade students. It's free for the Lapham Elementary students, thanks to a ton of support from the city and the community. 

The kids are busy this spring learning the who, what, and how of public art and sculpture. They have also begun plotting their own large, 3-dimensional pieces to build. This kid-made art will be installed in the parkway along the Yahara River this summer.

The artist-in-residence is Amy Mietzel, a former elementary-school art teacher who now teaches a full range of courses for adults and kids from her funky little space on Winnebago Avenue called Bare Knuckles Arts. 

About a year ago, I approached Amy with the idea for Lapham Buildementary. I was thinking of a follow-up to Yahara Reflections, a temporary installation of five artists' work in 2014. I barely knew her then, but had a feeling she was the person who could pull it off. 

When you walk in Bare Knuckles Arts, it's obvious that the workspace is the brain-child and baby of someone who delights in creative freedom, is open to trying new things, and has an eye for detail and a skill for organization. Watching her work on an art project with my daughters, I was impressed by how respectful, encouraging, relaxed and real she is with young people. 

Luckily, the Lapham principal was incredibly excited about the idea and Amy was on board.  I wrote a grant proposal to the Madison Arts Commission for the project and additionally received generous support from the Lapham-Marquette Parent Teacher Group, the Marquette and Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Associations, and local businesses Robin Room and Underground Meats. Amy started working immediately, sketching and networking and making things happen. She connected with UW-Madison and found two students to volunteer during class. Together we worked out the details with the school and got the blessing of the parks department. 

Lapham Buildementary kicked off in February

Over dinner after the first class, my six year old daughter told us about Andy Goldworthy. "He didn't get permission," she wanted to make clear to me. He just collected a whole bunch of snow and made huge snowballs, "like, bigger than me," she emphasized, stretching her arms over her head. He stored the snowballs in a freezer. Then in the summer, she continued, he put the snowballs in a park and watched as people discovered them. "They took over a week to melt!" she told us in awe. 

This example really spoke to my daughters, who have some icicles and a few chunks of snow in our freezer. 

Goldworthy is one of my favorite artists, too. He creates ephemeral works using natural materials. I really love that this can be done by anyone with materials that cost nothing, are readily accessible, and are naturally mesmerizing. It is what kids do with creative flair all the time, like when they make piles of rocks on the beach or build a fort from sticks in the woods.   

Amy started the first two classes with slides and stories. The focus during the second week was specifically on local sculptures, many of which were familiar to students. I watched the hands go up each time a new slide came on the screen, the kids eager to share their own ways of connecting with the artwork. After class, my children and I ran errands around the east side. We were so excited to point out many pieces we'd just been talking about.

Over the coming months, three additional local artists will come to meet and work with the students. The idea is to present a range of materials and give the children the chance to try out different techniques.

Eventually, working in pairs or teams, the kids will make their own unique designs into real sculptures. Sturdy bases for the sculptures have been welded by a friend of Amy's to meet Madison Parks' specifications. An exhibition of all the sculptures will be in the parkway along the Yahara River this summer. 

You can follow along with the project on the Bare Knuckles Arts website, where Amy posts a little story and pictures after each week's class. And check out the kids' designs on view at Bare Knuckles Arts during Gallery Night on Friday, May 5th from 5-9 PM. 

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