Stick a spork in it

The spork sculptures of some Glasgow Middle School art students are going on tour.

The sculptures left the school on Glasgow Avenue on Feb. 15 headed for the Audubon Zoo on Magazine Street in New Orleans.

The life-size animals, made of plastic eating utensils, will be back in Baton Rouge in April to be exhibited at the zoo.

A dolphin sculpture in the traveling zoo will be in New Orleans in November for the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas’ America Recycles Day.

The sculptures of art teacher Geeta Dave’s students are striking at a distance. Approach the sculptures and see that the works of art are also feats in engineering.

A couple of years ago, Dave’s students’ papier mache insects were exhibited at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art on Camp Street in New Orleans.

“I never repeat a project in my teaching,” Dave said.

She introduced the spork sculpture project to her students this way: “I said, ‘This is the material. We’re going to experiment with it. You’re a student. I’m a student.’”

Before Dave’s students could go to work, they needed sporks, a combination plastic fork/spoon used in the cafeteria instead of metal forks and spoons.

Dave could have purchased sporks, but she elected to recycle ones used in the cafeteria.

“A really nice man asked the children to put their sporks in one bucket and their foam plates in the garbage,” Dave said.

That’s how the teacher and her students acquired 37,000 sporks.

Rufus F. Sparrow is the nice man who helped Dave collect the sporks.

“The only thing we wash,” the cafeteria worker said, “are the pots we cook with. We haven’t washed plates, glasses and utensils in 10 years.”

The dirty sporks posed a problem for Dave and one of the students who helped clean the plastic eating utensils.

“I’m a vegetarian,” Dave said. “And so is one of the students who helped.”

Reared a Hindu, Dave doesn’t eat meat nor, given the choice, touch it.

“The way I grew up,” she said, “touching meat … it’s like the animal is still there.”

That didn’t stop the teacher and some student helpers from washing hundreds of dirty sporks after each day’s lunch.

“We rinsed the sporks with chlorine water in mesh bags,” Dave said. “Then, we washed the sporks with soap so they’d be clean for my students to work with.

“Every day, after lunch, almost 600 sporks. It was our ritual for four months,” she said.

Dave teaches habitat, history, science and math in her art projects.

“I’m not a mathematician,” she said, “but I can calculate.”

Once the students had a sketch for each animal, they began to think about the creatures’ insides.

“Once the armature (skeletal framework) is in their minds,” Dave said, “the students put it aside.

“Then, they go to the texture. How does the skin go? What’s the pattern?”

Dave’s students work in teams. Eighthgraders Miguel Alvarado, Tyri Young and Damaya Jyles worked on the pangolin sculpture which was a hit with Brenda Walkenhorst, the Audubon Zoo’s director of education and volunteers.

Pangolins resemble anteaters and armadillos. They inhabit southeastern Asia, Indonesia and parts of Africa south of the Sahara. Students found a picture and a description of pangolins in a book in Dave’s classroom.

Walkenhorst was impressed by the students’ spork creations as art as well as recycling.

“They’re in the shape of some pretty cool animals,” she said, “and we’re into conservation and recycling. Using sporks was a clever idea. We’re hoping people will see the animals and make their own art from garbage.

“Not many people come to us and say, ‘We have animal art,’” Walkenhorst said. “They were one of the first. The sculptures are so large. They’re one of a kind, and I just didn’t want to pass them up.”

A couple of weeks before the pieces were to leave for New Orleans, a table full of young women were hard at work on fins for the dolphin.

“The dolphin started as a swordfish,” said Abigail Jahnke, 14, providing a glimpse into the creative process.

“I started on an owl last year that didn’t get off the ground,” said Nina Dicharry, 14. “Those are the feathers over there.”

A swan and a flamingo also failed to achieve artistic lift off.

“It’s a group effort,” said Barsha Shrestha, 14.

Renée Desporte, 13, looked up from gluing a side fin.

“We talked about it,” she said, “to come up with a method of creating fins.”

The spork sculptures will be on exhibit April 6-7 during BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo’s “Zippity Zoo Fest.”

“The zoo is thrilled to expose so many people to this art project,” said Mary Woods, marketing director with BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo.

“The art is closely linked to the zoo’s mission of connecting people to animals even if those animals happen to be made of sporks,” she said.