Recycled Art: TrashLab Inspired Murals

This fall, a parent from PSA organized a visit from the TrashLab, a mobile exhibit made by the Dane County Department of Waste and Renewables for the Madison Children’s Museum. Over the course of a week, each of the 14 classrooms was able to visit the exhibit in PSA’s parking lot. During a time when field trips haven’t been able to happen, it felt extra special to have this experience come to our school.

We all really enjoyed exploring the Trash Lab! It was a wonderful learning adventure. We looked at all kinds of things people threw away which could have been recycled or reused. We learned more about recycling and watched videos of trash being compacted by a crane. It REALLY made us all think.

Student: Sometimes I see trash on the road or on the ground at places. That’s bad. I mean, you could pick it up and put it in the recycling can or bring it to school to use in art.

Student: Did you know that trash goes into the landfill and it can get into the oceans and hurt fish?

As a way to continue our thinking about waste and recycling, classrooms got a small collection bin and families were invited to bring in recyclables from home for a collaborative school-wide art project.

After discussing and examining the work of Louise Nevelson, the children were able to select discarded items and use liquid glue to compose their assemblages’ inside of recycled boxes of various shapes and sizes.

Student: Why would people throw away such fancy things?

Student: These are special things. I remember them.

Mr. N’s Palace by Louise Nevelson

Testing and experimenting with how to successfully attach the 3D objects to a flat surface required perseverance, fine motor coordination and trial and error. Classrooms with older children were able to use hot glue guns to create their trash assemblages. 

Student: People throw things away that they shouldn’t. They just have to think about how to use them in a different way.

Student: If I use these for my building, less will go to the landfill. We need to take care of our land.

A palette of rainbow hues inspired by the colorful art inside the Trash Lab, was chosen to finish our collages. In the spirit of reuse and less consumption, rather than purchase new, these paints were all leftover in PSA’s vast collection of wall colors from over the years. Like Louise Nevelson’s work, each assemblage was painted a singular color.

Student: I found a watch! It doesn’t have the time part but it does have a clicky circle. I don’t know why someone would put it on a pile of junk stuff- ‘cause this clicky part is cool.

Student: It’s an Eiffel Tower but made with a marker cap!”

“When you put things together, things that other people have thrown out, you’re really bringing them to life- a spiritual life that surpasses the life for which they were originally created.”

-Louise Nevelson

Once all of the assemblages were painted, we installed them in our piazza. In addition to the wall pieces, a small shadow-box table exhibit with I-Spy prompts allows for up close examination of small trash items.

Student: Trash that’s art isn’t really trash anymore.

Reflection by Kelly Blondin and Jo KaLhoun, Art Specialists

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