Among the usual changes that come with a new school year, Newark High School students will notice an artistic addition to the courtyard’s northeastern corner in September.
This garden is adorned with 33 birdhouses made by pottery, mixed media, and drawing and painting students led by Renee Bailey and Amy O’Connor.
While brainstorming ideas for a collaborative project in the spring, O’Connor, Bailey and students decided to bring life to a corner of the largely empty, unused courtyard through a birdhouse garden.
O’Connor, Bailey, family members, NHS staff, students and alumni spent the summer carving out the garden space with a rototiller and shovels, adding topsoil, installing the birdhouses, mulching the garden, and adding flowers and plants.
Bailey said each student in Drawing and Painting 2 built their birdhouses with reclaimed materials and acrylic paints. They drew inspiration from works by 2D American artists from the 20th-century realism reinvented and modernism art movements, as well as a 2D American street artist from the 21st century.
“How the students combined all three of their artists after extensively researching each was up to them,” Bailey said. “They may have drawn inspiration from a particular art piece or the overall style of the artist. There weren’t any limits to their creativity or interpretation. One student even used reclaimed license plates as a roof, because her artist used license plates as imagery.
“We spent a week after our research period going over how to break down work that is 2D in order to make it 3D — where they could draw ideas from and how those ideas may look great on paper, but may not work as construction begins. Most of these students had never worked like this. This was an advanced fine arts drawing and painting class that traditionally works in 2D. They were being asked to make a 3D piece of art that had to be decorative and functional outdoors. Even their post and post height had to be considered in their overall design.
“I was proud of how easily they adapted and problem solved throughout this process once they began construction. They fed off of each other as a group. That’s what you strive for in an art studio.”
Drawing and Painting 2 students were Felicity Hyde, Gracie Ketcham, Cameron McAllister, Alessio Muto, Damon Rogers, Deborah Szarek and Micah Utley-Powell.
Students in Bailey’s mixed media classes also created birdhouses with reclaimed materials and acrylic paint. They drew inspiration from an endangered species and a modern American artist.
“If the student wanted, their American artist could be a 3D artist,” Bailey said. “Mixed media is an advanced fine arts course in which the students work in 2D and 3D throughout the school year. Even though the class had worked in 3D throughout the year, this would be the first time creating for a specific outdoor space with other classes’ works infused throughout.
“How could they bring awareness to their species endangerment while beautifying the given space? They struggled in areas, much like the Drawing and Painting 2 class, but they also fed off of each other for ideas during construction, took feedback from critiques, and applied it when it came to final presentations. They would walk into the pottery classes to see what they were doing, so they had a framework of all that was going into this outdoor space. You could tell they were really thinking about overall end product.”
Mixed media students were Liberty Faliveno, Shenna Harris, Lynzee Havert, Ashton Keene, Emma Perrone and Alisa Shepherd.
Students in O’Connor’s pottery classes watched documentaries on architectural styles throughout history. They drew cards labeled with different styles to determine what they would research and explore as a means of stretching themselves beyond the familiar.
“We spent a great deal of time looking at various websites and online museum sources to find specific dates of their selected style, locations, architectural details and materials, as well as images of buildings and constructions,” O’Connor said. “Students were asked to take their findings and develop sketches of a birdhouse from various viewpoints that would capture or embed their selected architectural style. After that, they used different methods of working in clay and constructed their birdhouses, finalizing them with glazes and different glaze techniques, decorative details, and/or embellishments.”
Pottery students were Olivia Daniels, Emma Frazer, Alyssa Gunkel, Dillan Hernandez, Shaylyn Hixson, Brandon Holland, Denisha Jones, Carson Jordan, McKenna Kersten, Kaylah Meadows, Hannah Miller, Kamryn Reyome, Madeline Tulloch and Jaden Williams.
O’Connor’s advanced pottery students also created ceramic birdhouses, but they chose their own architectural style and could incorporate several styles into one, if they wanted. Advanced pottery students were Ali Avery, Hannah Herman, McKinley Miller, Emma Perrone, Emily Spry and Jasmine VanWinkle.
“What I found truly inspiring throughout this whole process was all of the classes cheered each other on as they created and completed their pieces,” Bailey said. “Even my Drawing and Painting 1 students, who did not make birdhouses, would check the progress of my classes and Mrs. O’Connor’s classes. They came out to help when we would ask, even some alumni came in July. It truly was a whole community giving back. This garden will inspire all that see it on a day-to-day basis, which is why we make art.”
“At first, when the pottery students were told they would draw an architectural style out of a hat and that was their assigned style to work with and research, several first complained about being pushed outside their comfort zone, knowing little to nothing about it,” O’Connor said. “With a little nudging and confidence building, and once they dug into the research, most found they really enjoyed their topic, and found some interesting things about the architecture and time period of the style.
“Students were very engaged in this particular project. So much so that many would come in to do more work on their birdhouse during their study halls, lunch periods and even after school. They loved the idea of creating a space in the courtyard to showcase their work and the idea of leaving a piece of themselves, a legacy. They also liked the idea of beautifying the space, making it an aesthetically pleasing view versus an empty, unused space.
“What I really like about the garden is how it brought so many different students together and, hopefully, will continue to promote the idea of community and inspire future students to do something to benefit their school community and environment. It exemplifies having pride in your school, the importance of working together, and the amazing possibilities and outcomes that can happen when people work as a team.
“I’m very proud of the work students put into this project and I think it looks amazing. When you get out there in the space and look closely at each house and the intricate details each student added to their piece, it is really impressive and leaves you feeling hopeful and inspired. I hope as our faculty, staff and students look out from classrooms into the courtyard, the garden makes them smile and their day a little brighter.”
Principal Tom Roote gave the birdhouse garden project high marks.
“While a biology major at Cortland State, I had the opportunity to take an ornithology course,” he said. “A large part of the coursework was to recognize birds by their vocalizations, which led us on many an adventure. When Mrs. Bailey approached me with the concept of celebrating our wildlife with an art project, I was quick to share my support as I saw the value in giving our students a birding adventure not dissimilar to mine. We are lucky to have an art department that is so focused on a community feel to all our spaces. I am looking forward to sharing this space with our students in the coming months.”
Topsoil and mulch were provided by Q’s Landscaping in Newark and the Newark Village DPW. Plants and flowers were donated by Bailey, O’Connor, and other NHS faculty and staff.