Heights art students upcycle trash into treasure

The best-in-show winning piece was inspired by A Snowy Day.

Visitors to the Heights Eco Fair on Oct. 8 had the opportunity to view more than 100 works of art created by 10th- and 12th-grade Heights High students, and vote for their favorite pieces.

With the exhibit, From Trash to Treasure, art teachers Sarah Cooper and Nancy Rich-Drehs saw an opportunity to channel their students’ creativity through an awareness of the environment.

“We had already done some upcycled artwork in previous years," Cooper explained, "but a meeting with members of the Cleveland Heights Green Team helped give context to the work and inspired a movement that impacted the [school] building as a whole.

“Instead of just utilizing found materials, we tasked students with developing systems for acquiring items we could use. Our artists made phone calls, sent e-mails, and created collection bins that we plan to continue using for future upcycled projects. With this approach we were able to acquire the raw materials we needed while reducing the amount of waste leaving our school building for a landfill. It was an amazing opportunity for Heights’s artists to experience art as activism.”

Rich-Drehs explained, “Once materials were collected, upper-level art students got to work planning projects that would turn this everyday trash into artistic treasure. We discussed ways in which these materials could be transformed."

“Providing a space for our youth to connect with the environment through expressions of art is a perfect example of what the Eco Fair is all about,” said Catalina Wagers, co-founder of the CH Green Team. “The Art Exhibit is the outcome of a young mind’s journey of awareness and discovery resulting in activism as a form of self-expression, connecting the artist and the audience with the realization that we all are both creators and stewards of our future.”

Eco Fair visitors voted for their favorite pieces in three categories. The winners were:

  • Jordyn West (sophomore) - Best two-dimensional art
  • Isabella Villanueva (sophomore) – Best three-dimensional art
  • Johanna Carlyle (junior) - Best in show

Carlyle described her winning piece as “inspired by the snowsuit in the book A Snowy Day, and some wonderful sculptures a student from the Cleveland Institute of Art did."

"I love working with the female form," said Carlyle, "and try to incorporate it into most of my art. Using recycled materials was an interesting experience because my main media is oven-bake clay. I enjoyed the challenge of working with something so unpredictable. I used a book that had been sitting in my mom’s attic for over a decade, so I’m really pleased that I was able to turn it into something special to me.”

West commented, “Using recycled stuff was really new for me. It was definitely out of my comfort zone; however, I’m glad that I still went through with it. If I were given a chance to do what I did again, I would. It’s something I’m willing to get better at.”

“It was impressive to see students think creatively and use available materials to make something meaningful,” said Cooper. “Even more importantly, they were able to quantify a small portion of the waste we produce as a school community and find ways to use it to beautify shared spaces. It is empowering to feel your impact, as a single person’s efforts can sometimes feel futile. Working together on this project connected us to each other, our neighbors, and our environment. I am thankful for that.”

Natalie Elwell

Natalie Elwell is director of Gender Equity Practice at World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., and is co-founder of the Cleveland Heights Green Team. She works remotely, and dedicates her free time to advocate for environmental protection and activism.

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Volume 15, Issue 11, Posted 4:17 PM, 10.25.2022