Where junk becomes cool art

4th May 2007 at 01:00
WITHIN DAYS of starting her new job as creative links officer at Midlothian council, Fiona Maher was given a blank application form for a Scottish Arts Council grant to promote crafts in schools.

"I wanted to do something different, so I decided we'd use recycling as a theme," she says. "I sent out a blanket email to all schools - five responded. Together we put in a bid and got the grant."

The money from the council, plus more from Scottish Natural Heritage and Midlothian, allowed Ms Maher to recruit an "emerging" craft artist to take up residency at the local authority for six months.

Malcolm Cruickshank, who graduated from Cumbria Institute of Applied Arts in 2004, got the job. His past work includes an exhibition of "alternative"

kilts and accessories, Haute Kilture - exhibits ranged from a kilt made from recycled plastic bags, to a "clubbers" kilt, made from a collection of night-club fliers.

He spent one day a week for four weeks at Eastfield and Cuiken House primaries, in Penicuik, plus Roslin, Bonnyrigg and Rose-well primaries.

"It was fun, especially doing it with recycled materials," says Lewis Anderson, 9, from Eastfield, speaking at the opening of an exhibition at the council offices, showcasing the work from each school. According to his mum, Emma Anderson, Lewis talked about it at home every night.

Mr Cruickshank worked with a composite class of P4-5 at Eastfield, developing 50 heads made out of polystyrene cups and paper pulp, each representing a year since Eastfield opened. The school is moving to new premises next session and Tricha Lampshire, acting depute head, hopes to put the heads on display in the foyer.

Cuiken House, a small unit for primary children with emotional, behavioural and social problems, run jointly by the council and Children 1st, went for one piece of art that all the pupils helped create.

"We wanted the project to be collaborative, as we emphasise working together at the school," says Hilary Downie, acting principal. "Malcolm suggested a cube, with each of the six children producing one side."

Roslin Primary chose to make a section of the Apprentice Pillar from nearby Roslyn Chapel, from plastic woven through a steel structure, while Rosewell produced a beautiful banner from discarded plastic bags ironed onto an old shower curtain.

Like Eastfield, Bonnyrigg is moving to a new building, so pupils decided to make something that would commemorate the old one. The result was a model, woven from plastic and paper.

Georgia Noble, Emma Munro, Danielle Rankin and Jenni Grahame, P7 pupils, explain: "First we brainstormed to come up with the idea, then we got to do our own weaving on this loom that Malcolm brought in and we did the sewing.

It was amazing turning rubbish into something cool - junk became art."

John Brash, P7 teacher, has also been able to capitalise on the project, extending it across the curriculum. "It has been a fantastic opportunity to do language, environmental studies and more," he says. "The children have been so creative, including producing speeches and PowerPoint presentations to make to the other schools involved."

Fiona Maher is talking to local libraries about the possibility of setting up a roving exhibition of the work. The art was on display in Midlothian's Fairfield House in Dalkeith.

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