A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Under the Sea: Dixie Magnet students dip a toe in the ocean with sculptures for museum display

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyFoward

While some at Dixie Magnet Elementary School might never have dipped a toe in the ocean, the “Under the Sea” theme really inspired students to channel their creativity into this fall’s Improbable Baubles design contest.

The challenge was to make original bibelots, or small decorative sculptures. The late George Headley III, a jewelry designer, crafted bibelots using precious and semi-precious stones and metals. Today’s art students work with recycled materials, plastic gems, bits of wire, and other mixed media.

“Everybody’s is totally different. We have some mermaids, some squids, completely new creatures, beds of coral, flowers. All my kids are excited about it,” said Rachel Losch, the visual art specialist at Dixie.

Improbable Baubles (now in its 10th year) is a free program offered by the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art, located off Old Frankfort Pike

Improbable Baubles (now in its 10th year) is a free program offered by the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art, located off Old Frankfort Pike. Losch heard about it this summer and signed up not one class but her entire school.

“The majority of my kids don’t have that much experience with museums, so it’s a great way to get them out there,” she said.

Some 200 top bibelots culled from three counties will be on display Nov. 18 through Dec. 22, and prizes will be awarded at the opening reception. Also, exhibition binders will feature a photograph of every entry along with the student’s artist statement.

This year’s contest, which was open to PK-8 students in Central Kentucky, drew roughly 1,500 participants.

The museum’s art education director, Jacqueline Beck, spent a week at Dixie in early October prepping all the classes. In describing bibelots, she encouraged the youngsters to work with scraps such as yogurt cups, pipe cleaners, baby food jars, and toilet paper rolls.

“They learn to be creative and reuse materials into an art piece. This teaches them to be really resourceful and learn how to make art out of different objects you would have never thought of before,” she said.

Beck also gave out seashells and tiny plastic sea creatures as she explained the theme.

While brainstorming, students jotted down ideas and sketched designs; in later classes, they assembled their bibelots. They also titled their artwork, talked about their choice of materials, and explained the whys.

“The artist statement is an opportunity for students to think about what they’ve made and communicate it to other people. They learn to analyze their artistic process,” Beck said.

In a group of fifth-graders at Dixie, the range of creativity was evident. For instance, Christopher Chenault selected a silver bow to represent a sea anemone; Abigail Anderson went with blue and purple yarn as flowing seaweed; Aeryn Han’s “A Cheap Gift from the Ocean” incorporated green wrapping paper as kelp; and Shelby Potter’s “Colorful Reef” used bits of twine as rope from a shipwreck and blue felt petals to symbolize the water.

“I just loved watching the pride in what they’re building. This had a direct purpose, and I saw their effort level escalate. They were trying to win and really wanted their sculpture exhibited,” Losch said. “Looking at it through an artist’s eyes changes the way you create because you have an audience that is real.”

Museum website

Participants from Fayette County Public Schools: Athens-Chilesburg, Cardinal Valley, Clays Mill, Dixie Magnet, Millcreek, Squires, Stonewall, and Veterans Park elementaries; and Edythe J. Hayes Middle School.

Tammy L. Lane is website editor for Fayette County Public Schools

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