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Pull up a stool and be creative

Take one simple IKEA stool, some new and recycled materials and a dash of artistic flair and what do you get? Di Hope reports on a project which has revitalised the design curriculum for a class of third year boys and girls

For the past fortnight the Ikea store in Glasgow has been exhibiting a collection of its own stools, though you wouldn't recognise them. The stools left the store in their customary minimalist form to come back transformed by third year pupils at Kelvinside Academy into witty, inventive and visually stunning tributes to famous people and characters.

This week Ikea awarded prizes for excellence to three of the young designers: Liam Fox-Flynn for his Bugs Bunny stool, Massimo Verrechia for his Rolling Stones stool with large, red lips and lolling tongue, and Gemma Kirk for a sparkly Versace stool.

Richard Ansell of Ikea Glasgow was impressed by the quality of their work, adding: "It was clear they had let their imaginations run riot."

The reaction from store visitors has also been extremely positive.

The art project was the idea of teacher Yanthe Harper-Green, a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, who recently returned to Scotland after teaching in London. Finding the requirements of Standard grade art somewhat restrictive after the wider GCSE syllabus, she challenged herself to revitalise the design element for the S3 students. She wanted a brief that was exciting, plausible and connected with the wider world of design.

The stools were bought at half-price (for the very affordable sum of 75p each) when Ikea learnt of her intentions. Her pupils then carried out their research and designs on paper before taking the stools home to transform over the Christmas holidays. Some returned completed, some not.

There was no restriction of scale, budget or subject set by the art department, though there was a lot of discussion at the planning stage and practical assistance later. Ms Harper-Green is particularly proud of coaxing one boy to use a sewing machine.

She is encouraged by the high standard of work, even though some family support and involvement is evident. The materials were supplied by the pupils and some of the best results were the simplest, often made using cast-off materials.

One stool was transformed into an Andy Warhol tribute by fitting a well painted Cambell's soup can under the seat, made from a cylinder of cast-off vinyl, and Sadie Smith scoured car boot sales for her Barbie stool. Adam Buksh made a witty portrait of Bob Marley with a big hat on legs. A Gaudi stool was elegantly worked with pale wood and broken plates and Yan Tiefenbrun's Isambard Kingdom Brunel design featured a tall black hat and working train.

Previous projects with the same year group have involved recycling materials readily available in schools, such as drinks cans. Fraser Wright made a beautiful, intricate and curiously delicate lampshade based on the thistle from a combination of metal coat hangers, wire mesh and tin, while Lucas Macauley made an ingenious Venus flytrap shade festooned with insects cut from scrap metal.

It is this process of transformation combined with the excitement of taking something and exploring its possibilities for change that has motivated these projects.

Ms Harper-Green has been struck by the sense of achievement evident in the pupils as they see results, with even the shyest ones making bold statements with their work. They are also fairly competitive: several stools were taken home again for further work after their creators had seen the efforts of classmates.

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