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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
Houghtaling Elementary School might not be on the waterfront, but waves can be spotted in front of the school. Those waves will soon be joined by salmon and dolphins, as Ketchikan artist Loren McCue wraps up her artist residency at the school.
McCue has been working with the students since the first week of March on an ocean scene, which should be finished by the school’s talent show on April 26. She’s been teaching the preschool through second-graders how to create waves — using blue, purple and green flagging tape — by weaving it through the fence in front of the school.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders have been creating fish and dolphins cut from metal, and sixth grade students have been working on murals that will be hung on the concrete wall outside of the school.
The idea for the project came after Houghtaling underwent construction for its new drop off zone. McCue said some people were not particularly enjoying the new design.
“It ended up with this big cement wall and the fence. They just didn’t like the way it looked, so they wanted something that would make it more kid-friendly looking,” McCue said.
The school received a grant from the Houghtaling parent-teacher association and the Alaska State Council on the Arts Artists in Schools program to spruce up the area. McCue had a vision of creating a seascape in front of the school, and shared those ideas with the PTA.
One could say McCue has experience in ocean-related art. Through grant funding, McCue has created fish-related artwork at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, the Deer Mountain Hatchery and the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau.
The artist had an idea in her head of what her newest ocean scene would look like, when she realized it had to be adjusted.
“When the kids come out, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what it’s going to look like.’ Then you have to let go of your image of what it’s going to look like and embrace theirs,” she laughed. “I actually love it.”
On Monday afternoon, Holly Filyaw’s kindergarten students could be seen spread out along the fence in front of the school, weaving bright blue, green and purple flagging tape throughout the chain-link fence — and jumping in rain puddles.
It was their second time working on the schoolwide project, and they picked up right where they left off. McCue and Filyaw both said they were impressed that the students remembered how to weave, moving the tape in and out of the fence in a straight line.
They weren’t just learning how to weave, though. McCue taught them how to contrast colors and how to design a piece of art. For example, if there was blue tape close by, they would be encouraged to stick a purple or green one next to it.
“The kids are a blast. It’s always about the kids,” McCue said. “Kids and art is just a magic thing, because they’re just uninhibited; they’re willing to try anything and have fun.”
Kendall Hamilton, a kindergartner in Filyaw’s class, said on Monday that she’s been having fun creating the waves by tying and weaving the sturdy, waterproof and nearly indestructible tape.
“It’s going to look like the ocean,” Hamilton said.
“We’re making water, and the big kids are making fish,” Forrest Eide, Hamilton’s classmate, added.
Those big kids include the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, who have been creating marine life using metal cut in the shape of fish and dolphins — which were cut by students at Ketchikan High School.
“The kids sealed them, painted them, and then sealed them again and they’ll all just be zip tied (to the fence),” McCue said.
The wearable artist and graphic designer has been working on painting, designing and drawing with the sixth-graders on their ocean-life mural. The piece will be done in an acrylic base, will be on marine-grade plywood and it will be sealed with polyurethane.
Once the younger students finish weaving their waves, the fish will be attached to the fence and the paintings will be adhered to the large concrete wall next to the stairway leading up to the school entrance.
When the project is completed, Filyaw said her students will have pride in their school and their ability to have crafted something for the community.
“I can just imagine my kids driving by in their car, and them going, ‘I helped with that,’” Filyaw said, adding that school curriculums nowadays are canned and scripted. “It doesn’t give our students a lot of freedom to explore their own thoughts or creativity. Projects like this do.”