Elaborate art project lets pupils' imaginations sail

Launch of two 9-foot boats proves successful on pond


May 20, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

This year's Eldersburg Elementary School art project began as a series of paper models. The pupils chose the best and easiest-to-build design. They shopped for lumber at the local hardware store and painstakingly measured to assure the planks were cut to their specifications.

The classes spent the better part of the school year building, sanding, sewing and painting. The true test came yesterday as the pupils launched two single-mast ships at Deer Park Pond in Gamber. After the unmanned trials, they pronounced their 9-foot crafts seaworthy.

"They didn't crash or sink," Connor Keenan, 8. "I'd get in it."

Denise Ovelgone, art teacher and project organizer, manages to outdo herself every year, said Daniel Clifford, Eldersburg's assistant principal. Two years ago, her art classes made a revolving carousel with elaborate animals moving to music. Last year's castle came with a life-sized throne and a Renaissance court.

"Every year she creates a major project," Clifford said. "This is incredible work."

Ovelgone called the project "constructive chaos that enabled children to grow in learning."

First launch

The vessel Ducky Dudes arrived at the pond, a few miles north of the school, in the bed of a pickup truck. Another driver towed Terrific Turtles on a boat trailer. Several hundred pupils, teachers and parents turned out to cheer the launch under an ominous sky. Many captured the event on film.

Ovelgone had substituted a bottle of water for the traditional champagne, but, in the interest of beating a threatening storm, she opted to forgo that ceremony. The launch began after Ovelgone's thanks and words of encouragement.

"Let us all remember the spirit of learning to believe in ourselves and to persevere when obstacles get in the way," Ovelgone said.

She did insist that no children make the maiden voyage.

"This is a test," she said. "Like any other project, we will send the mascot on first." Ducky Dudes, with a rubber duck perched atop its mast and colorful ribbons streaming along its sail, left shore without a hitch. Its crew easily pulled the bright yellow vessel with ropes halfway around the pond.

Pupils' confidence

A collapsed mast made Terrific Turtles' start shakier, but the bright red sloop, with pictures of turtles stenciled on its sides and sail, soon caught up to its sister ship.

"I have confidence in this vessel," said Joe Taylor, 11, who designed and helped build Terrific Turtles. "It won't take on water."

Neither craft sprang a leak.

"We caulked, wood-glued, plastered, taped and painted, and then we checked it 10 times," said Hunter Haines, 9, another Terrific Turtles builder.

Hunter's mother, Kim Haines, watched, camera ready, from the shore.

"The kids really did this project from start to finish," she said. "They had to design a boat that would float, pick out the materials and then build it. Now they will know they have done it."

The pupils pronounced both ships seaworthy, or at least worthy enough to transport mascots across the shallow pond.

"I would say seaworthy would depend on the depth of the water," said Heather Greenberg, 11. "But we sure have gotten far since we started with a pile of wood."

Along the way, Joe, the ship designer, said, "We learned to use screwdrivers, hammers, nails and drills."

Shipbuilding taught 11-year- old Bunmi Akinbode the value of teamwork.

"I could never have done this by myself," he said. "It would take too long and would not have been much fun."

Stephanie Taylor, 9, said she enjoyed the time spent after school working with friends on the project. She painted "with puffy paints so it would stand out" a large duck wearing a striped cap on the Ducky Dudes' sail.

"It was cold that day I painted," she said. "I used my cap as a model."

Future plans

The school isn't done with the boats. The pond-tested craft were transported back to the school where they will become part of a sea and space exhibit next week. Ovelgone's classes are converting the stage into an aquarium and the boats will be the sunken ships.

"We proved they definitely can sail," Joe said.

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