MANCHESTER — Discarded hubcaps are the driving force behind a special artwork project at Parkway South Middle School in Manchester.
Twenty-six seventh-grade art students there recently "up-cycled" discarded auto hubcaps, which were collected by art teacher Karen Silverman over 2 1/2 years. The students decorated and turned them into works of art that are now displayed in the school's main hallway.
Up-cycling is a term used to describe the conversion of waste materials or useless products into new materials, products of better quality or products of better environmental value.
The school was among four recognized recently for its creative and green initiatives with a new Parkway District Earth Day Award. Other schools honored were Barretts and Mason Ridge elementary schools and Parkway North High School.
Silverman said she was inspired to do the project almost three years ago when she saw a painted hubcap at a restaurant.
"I said to myself, 'that would be really cool, to collect a bunch of hubcaps for my class.' However, it took me 2-1/2 years to collect the 26 I needed," she said.
Not only would the hubcaps serve a decorative purpose, using them in artwork would keep them out of landfills.
Silverman kept an eye out wherever she was driving and stopped to pick up hubcaps along the road.
She told her class about the idea in December and work started soon afterward, with each student decorating a hubcap to his or her individual taste
"They look so amazing, all based upon the theme of nature," Silverman said.
"Some kids used little tiles to make a mosaic; some used beans, some used twigs and other natural items, others painted them with various textures," Silverman said.
"Some even glued sand on and painted on top of that. Our goal was not just to help the environment, but for them to demonstrate the elements and principles of art we'd been learning in class."
Elements include lines, shapes, forms, textures, values, space and color. Principles include contrast, movement, variety, balance, rhythm, unity, emphasis, pattern and proportion.
"Some kids did starfish, others did trees and flowers and leaves and branches, or the sun and moon and stars," Silverman said.
The project will continue next year, as well, thanks to community involvement.
This year's sixth-graders liked the project so much, they asked if they could do the project next year. Silverman was afraid to say yes because it had taken her so long to collect hubcaps for this year.
"But one sixth-grader, Rachel Ganey, and her mom went out and collected 18 hubcaps in two months' time, so I think I'll have more than enough with them, me and other parents collecting," Silverman said.
"Now, the community is becoming more beautiful when hubcaps aren't all over the roads," she said. "And it was a fun way to teach our students there is more than just one way to 'go green.'"
The project has an unexpected bonus. The school's math teachers quickly discovered the painted hubcaps made excellent examples when teaching students about symmetry. Soon students were in the main hallway identifying the different forms of symmetry.
The hubcaps went on the road last weekend to Queeny Park for the Parkway School District art show.
Jenn Harter, 13, decorated her hubcap with a rainbow all the way around and used acrylic paint to add butterflies to each of the hubcap's spokes.
"We had to coat paint over quite a few times to make sure it adhered," Jenn said.
"I really like the way mine turned out," she said. "There weren't as many guidelines for this project, so you could be really creative. And we helped clean up the roadsides. It was cool Ms. Silverman collected these all off the road. Whatever she found, we used."
Jenn's only challenge was attaching a flower design to the hubcap.
"The shop teacher helped me drill a hole in the middle to attach the flower to make a three dimensional design," Jenn said.
Joey Six, 13, created a panda design for his hubcap, using the middle of the spaces to create stands of bamboo which pandas eat.
"Where you would screw the hubcap into the tire, it was hard to get acrylic paint into the crevices, but it turned out really well," he said.
"You're taking something that would usually pollute nature and turning it into something beautiful that has to do with nature."