Mobile sculptures promote balance at Buford Middle School

The Mobile Arts Residency Program enables full participation by the student body at Buford Middle School.  Image: Anna Harrison The Mobile Arts Residency Program enables full participation by the student body at Buford Middle School. Image: Anna Harrison

On Friday, Buford Middle School held a dedication ceremony for four new permanent artworks installed at the school, made by students as part of the Mobile Arts Residency Program with visiting artist Kevin Reese. The sculptures are hanging mobiles, directly inspired by the work of Alexander Calder; three of them occupy the schools’ stairwells, while a larger fourth mobile is installed in the lobby of the nearby Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center.

The mobiles were totally designed and built by the students, who totaled 120 kids from seven different arts classes, including both 7th and 8th graders. “It was all of my classes,” said Desmond Cormier, Buford’s Art teacher. “The ESL kids, the Special Education students, everyone was included.” His students sketched basic ideas before Reese arrived, and then critiqued and revised them. “I was worried at first before Kevin came in, because it’s a difficult thing to arrange,” Cormier said. “But the experience was wonderful. When you let our students do what they need to do, they do it right.”

They spent a week cutting shapes from foam-core, sanding them smooth, and hand-painting and fireproofing them. Reese bent the wire frames after students had helped to find the correct balance points for each section of the mobile. Cormier and Reese assisted in the construction and gave the students basic parameters for the project, but left most of the creative decisions up to them. Every class worked on each of the sculptures, over the course of a week; one class would pick up where the last had left off.

The results are particularly impressive, for a school project; the Smith Center’s sculpture is water-themed, while the others are respectively themed around the sun, the night sky, and a collection of quadrilateral shapes (inspired by one of the school’s geometry classes). Nearby air vents made the mobiles slowly turn in place, which captured natural light from the school’s floor-to-ceiling windows. While Calder’s famous sculptures were made from metal and can weigh up to a half-ton, the students’ works are so light that the heaviest one weighs only six pounds. “They’re so light that painting them changes the balance,” Reese said. “You can’t balance them before they’re painted, or you have to re-balance them again afterward.”

“They learned about art, they learned about physics, geometry, chemistry, and of course, balance,” said Cathy Von Storch of the Paramount, which sponsored the project, which was also funded by the city. “Charlottesville City Schools recognize that the arts are not just frills,” said Aaron Eichorst, arts coordinator for the City’s schools. “They are an indispensable aspect of our education.”