I was fascinated and curious when I saw a self-portrait of Chicago based artist Mary Ellen Croteau that had been made from bottle caps. I was a little nervous as to whether I would be able to pull this huge project off.
We put collection tubs in each school and approached businesses and grocery stores asking if they would be willing to house collection tubs. The local newspaper wrote an article to let our residents know about our endeavors. We needed as many shapes, sizes and colors as we could possibly get our hands on. I asked that they be rinsed off prior to sending them to school.
This was a great opportunity to learn about the importance of recycling. Not only would my students ascertain the artistic qualities of this project, but they would discover the environmental benefits. Did you know that plastic bottle caps are often made from a different plastic than the bottles they are attached to? These various types of plastic have to be recycled separately since the plastics melt unevenly.
As the bottle caps started pouring in, students volunteered to sort them by color. This was helpful when it was time to put the murals together. Before we knew it, we had tubs filled to the brim with plastic bottle caps. We were ready to design our project.
Washington Intermediate had no trouble coming up with a design. They chose our school mascot, a tiger. Inman Primary, however, which has Kindergarten through 3rd grade, was more challenging. We decided to use a combination of ideas that told a story about our small Midwestern community, Red Oak, Iowa.
The students chose to include the town water tower and the Chautauqua Pavilion. This pavilion was
built in 1907 is the largest covered pavilion west of the Mississippi. Our mural wouldn’t be complete without the kid’s favorite skyline of Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Nights. We titled this mural, Starry Nights Over Chautauqua.
I sketched our student’s designs onto each board and then gave them a very thin, watered down coat of acrylic paint so the children knew where the various colored caps and lids needed to be attached.
Prior to turning the kids loose with hot glue guns, we had intensive instruction on hot glue gun safety. The 4th and 5th graders were allowed to glue the bottle caps on by themselves in small groups of 3-4. The kindergarten through 3rd graders pulled the trigger while I held the glue gun. During this time, the remainder of the students worked on projects for their upcoming art show. Surprisingly enough, the only one to get burnt (just a little) was myself.
Putting the bottle caps on was a time-consuming process, but the students never complained. Some even volunteered to stay after school and skip recess to work on it. They loved watching their masterpiece’s come together.
I cannot put into words the magnitude of all that was experienced by the students and myself while working on this project. We learned about recycling and protecting our environment. We learned about the rich history of our community and the Chautauqua Pavilion. But perhaps the greatest learning experience of all in this adventure was how our community came together to collect the thousands of bottle caps needed to create these beautiful, awe-inspiring pieces of artwork.