Art students explore fiber structures with visiting artist

Saturday, February 18, 2012 | 3:58 p.m. CST; updated 9:47 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 18, 2012
Genny Perso and Nicholas Perso, 13, laugh while working on a volunteer art project at Bingham Commons on Saturday. Volunteers are helping Irish artist Caoimhghin O'Fraithile assemble an installation piece as part of the True/False Film Festival.

COLUMBIA — Morgan and Ashley Shellady, 14-year-old twins, have sore fingers. They've already spent 10-plus hours helping to construct the 16-foot cloth canopy structure that will soon stand outside Ragtag Cinema.

"You're hunched over, tying it for three hours straight. It really hurts your back after a while," Morgan said.


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Caoimhghin O'Fraithile, who creates fiber structure art, has been working with students after school from 3 to 6 p.m. since Monday.

O'Fraithile is a visiting artist for the True/False Film Festival, Columbia's annual documentary film festival that will go from March 1 through 4.

He is making two pieces for the festival. One will stand on bamboo stilts outside Ragtag, which will be one of the nine film venues, and the other will be suspended from a bridge in the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology. Both pieces will be installed Feb. 27, and the museum will hold an opening reception for the artwork at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 29.

Every day the students, who are ages 14 to 18, rip shreds of cloth, tie them to twine and talk to O'Fraithile, who is from Ireland. He earned his master's degree at MU.

"They learn how to live as an artist, and they get a bit of his background," said Lindsay Akens, the art program coordinator for Career Awareness Related Experience. "I think they see that to be an artist is not an unreachable goal if they want to go and be an artist."

C.A.R.E. is a city program that encourages student success through tutoring programs and real-world job experience. The program partnered with the festival to bring O'Fraithile to Missouri. In the summer, Akens works with the C.A.R.E. Gallery, an eight-week program where students are paid to learn about art fundamentals and install the works of visiting artists.

Akens recruited students for this project from gallery applications for the coming summer, but participation is open to the community, and graduate students have joined in the work.

"We want to have as many youth as possible to have this experience if it's something that's going to be really good for them," Akens said.

Only Morgan applied for the Gallery program, but she recruited Ashley to work on the festival project with her.

"We do everything together," Morgan said.

The twins are ninth-grade students at Jefferson Junior High School and have been interested in art since third grade. Morgan carves and stains wood, and Ashley likes clay sculpture and sketching. But neither has explored a medium like O'Fraithile's before, and Ashley hopes to use photos of the final products in her portfolio when she applies to colleges for engineering.

"At school, we never thought about structure art, or structure with fabrics and stuff, and this is an example I can use in the future," she said.

Next week, the twins will have to juggle art with rehearsals for their school play, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." They are both Titania's fairies, though, and therefore have identical costumes and lines. Their plan is to alternate which one goes to rehearsal and which works on the structures.

Soon, both will have served more than the 15 hours needed to get a volunteer pass at the film festival, but they want to continue with the project to its end.

"I want to see it finished," Morgan said.

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