Genoa artist-in-residence helps students find art in common materials

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For the past four weeks, Juls Rathje’s art students at Genoa Middle School have discovered art in places they least expect — cereal boxes, packaging tape, tree limbs and pool noodles.

They’ve created collages from packaging for cereal, crackers and water bottles. They wrapped pieces of pool noodles in brightly-colored fabric to create sculptures and a mural. They used yarn, fabric and thread to cover tree limbs that have been combined for an art installation. 

This week, students partnered in groups of two to wrap arms and legs in plastic wrap and packaging tape for three-dimensional human sculptures. 

“It’s about putting new materials into their hands and showing them things they have already used before but we’re using them in a new way,” said Gahanna-based textile artist Wendy Kendrick, who serves as Genoa’s artist-in-residence.

Through a grant with the Ohio Arts Council, Kendrick is working with Rathje to bring textile and sculpture projects new to Rathje’s art classes.

As part of the human sculpture project, students sketched the shapes they wanted to create with their body parts before gently wrapping them in plastic wrap and packaging tape. They will continue the process through next week: seventh-graders will focus on the shapes of their arms and legs while eighth-graders will use the materials to create a full-body sculpture. 

Rathje encouraged her students to create pieces that would inspire questions from those viewing them.

“We liked the idea of having students engage with the sculptures,” she said. “We want students to want to know more about it.” 

Kendrick will work with Rathje through the end of the month where they will introduce other projects such as fabric self-portraits in old books, a graffiti wall where students can design positive messages, and tape murals along the hallway wall leading to Rathje’s room.

“I hope that students realize the enjoyment of art,” said Kendrick, who has worked in elementary schools across Central Ohio. This is her first collaboration with Rathje and Westerville City Schools. 

“Some of the activities we do are very relaxing. I share with them that it brings me comfort and I hope they find and discover something about themselves in that, finding some enjoyment in it that perhaps they didn’t realize.”

Rathje said her students have embraced Kendrick and her artwork, which includes quilts, collages, mixed media and fabric art. During her first week with students, Kendrick shared pieces that showed the progression of her artistic career. She talked about what worked and didn’t work for her as an artist and what she learned along the way.

“Her artwork is really engaging,” Rathje said. “Students want to come up and feel it. They want to talk to her and share their artwork with her. They are excited to take her ideas and create their own.”

For Kendrick, the feeling is mutual. Her work with Genoa students and their creative energy has her eager to return to her studio and start working.

“This has been the first time since I’ve been in a residency in a school setting where I feel personally inspired.”