7th and 8th grade students in Darlene Wilhelm's art classes at Walters Jr. High in Fremont are creating an underwater wonderland- out of trash. Clown fish and anemones are made from egg cartons, coffee cup cozys, cardboard tubes and left over yarn. Coral reef habitats spring up from bagel boxes, tissue paper and paint. Urchins sprout from rolled magazine pages and fish swim across the classroom on embossed tin catering trays and repurposed juice pouches.
The works are part of a series that Wilhelm's classes will make over the course of the year for a number of public exhibits highlighting human impact on the oceans and the importance of oceans in human health.
Soon, students will start making food displays from discarded plastic. They have already created a small sushi plate using Styrofoam food trays to highlight the fact that when we eat fish that eat plastic, we are eating plastic chemicals too. Plans also include the transformation of plastic catering containers into transparent turtles filled with plastic bags that mimic jellyfish.
"We have a problem in this society with single use disposable items," says Wilhelm. "Even things that are recyclable contribute to litter that gets into the environment."
"In this class, we are trying to up-cycle as much trash as possible," explains Wilhelm. "We produce so much waste in this society that can be reused, recycled and repurposed- it doesn't make any sense to buy new material for these projects when so much is available for free."
Wilhelm's theme of up-cycling highlights the idea of adding value to single-use disposable materials- while staying mindful of the ultimate "end of life" for the object. "We use lots of metal and paper that could have been recycled for our projects, so it is important that we preserve the recyclability of the material after the project is over by using water soluble paints and removable tape whenever possible," she explains.
"I hope this exhibit inspires people to be more thoughtful and creative in reducing the impacts of waste."
Take a look through the gallery below for more project examples and ideas from Wilhelm's class, including carved styrofoam trays converted to print blocks and photos of the other projects described in this article.