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Christo inspires Witt art project

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 26, 2011
Witt fifth-graders Holly MacLeod, Zoe Schaeffer and Ivy Proffitt are eager to get started on their next art project.
Witt fifth-graders Holly MacLeod, Zoe Schaeffer and Ivy Proffitt are eager to get started on their next art project.
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MANATEE COUNTY — Pointing their fingers toward the covered walkway, children at Gene Witt Elementary School shouted out in excitement.

“I like it!” one said with glee as he marched toward the lunchroom.

After a nearly monthlong Parent-Teacher Organization drive to collect new and gently used blankets for the area’s homeless, students on Jan. 14 giggled in amazement to see the fruits of their collections suddenly hanging from the tops of the walkways.

Art teacher Bea Schaeffer, with the help of several Gene Witt dads, orchestrated the display in Christo-like fashion. Children have been learning about the Bulgarian-born artist, who with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, spent decades creating environmental works of art such as the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin, the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris and The Gates in New York City’s Central Park.

“It really enables them to see a big picture on how they impact their community and ultimately their world,” Schaeffer said. “It gets them really excited. And it’s (great for them) to see that art can be created out of anything — and it can be big.”

Fourth- and fifth-grade reading teacher Nancy Wittner agreed.

“It’s a tangible way for students to see what they’ve accomplished,” she said.

Schaeffer said she came up with the idea for draping the walkways with blankets while thinking about how to make her lessons on Christo have more of an impact on students. Wondering if the schools PTO would continue its blanket collection efforts for the second year in a row, Schaeffer made the appropriate contacts.

The PTO agreed to sponsor an ice cream party for the class who collected the most blankets, and Schaeffer’s idea was set in motion.

Students brought in a total of 174 blankets, which were packed up and donated to the Salvation Army for the homeless individuals it serves. Blankets with noticeable stains or holes will be given to the Satchel’s Last Resort, a local dog sanctuary.

Students said they were not only enamored with Christo’s work but also with the opportunity to help the community while learning about the artist.

“Seeing all the blankets people donated to help the homeless makes me feel good,” fifth-grade student Ivy Proffitt said. “It’s cool how art projects can help people.”

Schaeffer said she hopes the Christo-inspired project will get students excited about an upcoming study on artist Paul Klimt, as well as a spring art installation project, again inspired by Christo.

In the spring, Schaeffer plans to fill part of the mesh fence at the school to create a mural using the ends of painted plastic bottles. Children will design the murals and then use the democratic process to vote on which will be used for the actual mural installation.

“I’m really excited about the next (art project),” 10-year-old Zoe Schaeffer said. “I’m sure we’ll find a way to help people with the next project we do.”

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].


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