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Students Fashion Recycled Plastic into ArtPrize Entry

Lilly Misner circled around a cascade of about 400 colorful decorations, looking for just the one she had created.

“Where’s mine?” the Northview third-grader wondered aloud. “I can’t find mine.” Then she stopped at one particular purple curlicue and cradled it with her hand. “This one is mine!” she exclaimed happily.

No doubt many other students from East Oakview Elementary made equally exciting finds this day, when they visited their school’s entry into ArtPrize. Installed in the lobby of the Courtyard Marriott hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, the sculpture glowed with bright plastic shapes lit from within. Hanging in the hotel’s front window, it looked like something between a chandelier and a Christmas tree.

Tobin Blom, left, and Grayson Rush gaze up in wonder at their creation

The pieces were made from recycled plastic bottles colored last spring by each of East Oakview’s approximately 400 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Teachers, paraprofessionals and parents then cut the plastic pieces into fanciful shapes and strung them together with zip ties.

The sculpture was inspired by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly, an example of whose work hangs at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Students watched a video of Chihuly working with other students as they colored their pieces.

East Oakview art teacher Amy Tefft spearheaded the project, helped by retired art teacher Cathy Duda and Aquinas College instructor Suzanne Butler-Lich. Tefft said the project started as just a way to do something as a school, but turned out so well she entered it in ArtPrize.

“Not only were they working together to create an art piece, but now they are presenting that art piece to the world and sharing it with the community,” Tefft said. “I’m proud of what the kids did.”

Plenty of parents came down to see the sculpture and snap photos of its sculptors. Lonnie Strecker said her son Tommy was thrilled to contribute.

Visitors admire the students’ sculpture, titled “Inspired by Chihuly”

“He loves art,” she said. “He felt really special, like part of something really big. It kind of gives me goose bumps. It’s pretty cool to know he’s part of this.”

“I think it’s great,” added Jamie Sheppard, mother of first-grader Shyla White. “I didn’t know they had a piece in there until today.”


Inspired by Chihuly

Northview Public Schools News

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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