NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Students at Stephen F. Austin State University’s Early Childhood Laboratory arrived on the chilly morning of Dec. 11 to see SFA art students inflating a 50-foot-long purple crayon sculpture on the front lawn of their school.
This semester-ending project for Professor Lauren Selden’s 3D Design class in the School of Art taught SFA students the elements and principles of design when working with 3D forms. It also helped both the college students at SFA and the pre-K students in the Early Childhood Laboratory relieve stress at the end of a busy semester.
“The children loved not only looking at but also getting inside the big, purple crayon,” said Dr. Lori Harkness, director of the Early Childhood Laboratory. “They got to enjoy reading a story inside and see how the crayon was inflated. It was an amazing experience.”
In the past, Selden’s classes have built inflatable sculptures that provided different experiences for the viewer. After voting on approximately 20 proposals, this year’s class chose an inflatable purple crayon envisioned by Dallas-area junior Jenna Lowry, who’s studying interior design in the School of Human Sciences.
The proposal included where the piece would be shown, reasons it would be an effective group project, ways students could participate with viewers and the availability of power on site.
“We needed something simple enough to complete in a short amount of time,” Lowry said. “Something creative we could all participate in and relieve the stress of finals week.”
Designed for a pre-K audience, the project helped the children learn more about colors, especially SFA’s school color, purple. Selden’s students learned how to take a 2D material, 2 mil plastic, and transform it into a large-scale 3D form. Selden said the students had to work together carefully to be successful on this scale.
“We have been doing this activity in 3D for more than 10 years,” Selden said. “It is an excellent way to explore scale and spectacle.”
The final sculpture, which was 6.5 feet tall, started with a small plastic model to ensure the elements of the crayon, from the body to the black bands to the cone, would scale correctly. For example, if a 3-foot-long sculpture inflates with a hair dryer, a 50-foot sculpture needs a regular fan.
The art students decided the crayon should lay on its side for optimum inflation. They taped purple and black plastic together to build the sculpture during three weeks of class time. The students worked together to calculate dimensions, cut the plastic, fabricate the form and test the completed form.
“We worked very efficiently and couldn’t wait for the children to see our hard work come to life.” Lowry said. “This was a unique and fun-filled experience.”
Once the sculpture was inflated in front of the Janice A. Pattillo Early Childhood Research Center, more than 40 children and 30 adults climbed through a 7-foot zipper door in groups of five to allow air to inflate the crayon to full capacity. Selden’s students read to the pre-K students, who all sat attentively inside the large crayon.
“My students were so excited to share their work,” Selden said. “Working in the community helps these artists consider their future audience while creating an experience in an unlikely environment.
“This is our entry into studying public art, site-specific art, performance and community involvement,” Selden added. “I was lucky to have such an exceptional group; they worked together and created a fun experience for the pre-K children.”
Selden finds this work so rewarding that she often participates in inflatable sculpture projects around the world. Her latest project took her to Chihuahua, Mexico, to work with professional artists and college students to create a giant inflatable piggy bank.
“That was one of my favorite experiences so far,” she said. “This kind of art involves a lot of team building, and it was fun to work with the community members, college students and professional artists in Chihuahua. There was often a language barrier between us, but making things is a universal language. I love being in situations where I get this reminder.”
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