Inspired By Everyday Objects, Oak Knoll Eighth Graders Create Art Out of Junk

Apollo 11 by Moira Joel ’25

Oak Knoll eighth graders learned that one person’s trash may be another person’s treasure.

During the school’s remote learning session last spring, Creative Arts Director, Will Cardell, challenged his students to create “artworks by necessity.” Without traditional art supplies at home, last year’s eighth graders were given a project called “Got Junk? Call 1-800-ART-SCULPT” and were tasked to construct sculpture environments made from ordinary trash. 

“A true artist should always be able to create, even if faced with challenging or unusual circumstances,” said Cardell.

Students were assigned to collect everyday trash or junk items, such as cardboard containers, package wrappings, egg cartons, and plastic bottles, and make interior, exterior or imaginative settings from them.

“Before beginning their projects, the students and I discussed the assemblages of American artist, Robert Rauschenberg, who was relatively poor when he began his career in New York City,” said Cardell. “Since he couldn’t always afford traditional art supplies, Rauschenberg roamed his neighborhood and acquired junk objects to incorporate in some of his three-dimensional works.”

Cardell said the project was so highly successful that he assigned it again this year, adding another layer. In addition to assembling their structures, the students were also charged with writing an original story or narrative about their environments.

Lauren White ’25 of Summit created “The Frozen Theatre,” which was inspired by the many struggles that she and others in the theatre community faced due to the pandemic. Her work was also directed by the severe winter weather that New Jerseyans recently faced. 

“In my sculpture, the curtains are made from medical masks, symbolizing the closing of Broadway in April of 2020,” said White.  “During the Oak Knoll production of ‘Into Our Dreams,’ the actresses and directors could only work together for half of the rehearsals due to the ongoing snowstorms. For four weeks, it felt as though we were living in Colorado! The challenge of the weather is represented in my work by the hanging snow scenery and the snowman stuck in the barren forest,” she said. 

Isabel Garcia-Maxson ’25 of Maplewood created “Scenes from an Apartment,” featuring story vignettes of the different building tenants, some visible through the windows or on the outside of the building. Here are descriptions of two of the scenes:

Apt. # 422 – Billy is currently experiencing heartbreak and wallowing in self-pity. He is crying and letting go of his hope for a different life as a red balloon might float off.

Apt. # 424 – A little girl named Bianca is listening to Carlos Gardel on the record player while her brother draws pictures of superheroes. Their father, speaking in Spanish, watches as his wife tends the window-box garden. Bianca pours water on the flowers that were once seeds, and she wonders what she will become when she “blooms.” 

Other projects included “Magicland” by Abby Donofrio ’25 of Califon and “Apollo 11” by Moira Joel ’25 of Chatham.

“This eighth-grade class is amazing,” Cardell said. “Each of the sculptures is unique in its conception and execution. The students were highly inventive in the way they transformed everyday household objects to serve collectively in an aesthetic way. Additionally, the stories that the students wrote were just as imaginative. Even our remote learners, including Audrey Cicchino ’25 of Chatham (who created a fantasy meadow), were enthusiastically engaged in the project and shared in the creative fun,” he said. 

To view the Junk Sculptures live, 13 pieces will be on display in the Hope Memorial Library.