Photograph by David Hooker
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A group of first-year engineering and technology students got creative for the City of Athens’ annual Halloween Block Party – they contributed to this year’s “Honey for the Heart” puppet parade.
A collaborative community art project, "Honey for the Heart" was led by Minneapolis artist Daniel Polnau, local artists Patty Mitchell, Wendy Minor and Robert Lockhead, also a mechanical engineer. The project attracted artists, students and community members to construct oversized, wearable puppets out of primarily recycled materials.
More than 20 Russ College students visited the studio as part of a course for their learning community, in which a group of students share a common experience around their academics to build relationships and learn together outside of the classroom.
Russ College Director of Professional Experiences Dean Pidcock says the field trip for the undecided engineering majors was a unique opportunity to see how an engineering background can come to life – building or designing puppets that move and dance around, and that can be worn comfortably and safely by their human operators.
“It really enabled them to think outside of the box in terms of what can be achieved with an engineering degree,” Pidcock said.
Plastic bags and cardboard formed the base of the puppets, giving shape and structure. Papier-mache added strength, and fabric and other materials were used for decorating.
“I really love papier-mache, and I like getting my hands dirty,” said freshman Tyann Carter, who is from Cleveland, as she worked. “I just kind of love the entire concept of the puppets and the puppet making.”
Mitchell had hopes for little surprises such as wings and moving eyes.
“The students have to problem-solve and take into consideration weight, design, repurposing materials, durability, flexibility-- in a real life situation,” she noted.
Carter, along with Toledo-native Ameenah Carroll, returned to the studio after the initial visit, for additional work. Carroll anticipated that the change of pace – working in an art studio – would be a help with work-life balance.
“The upcoming week is going to be very stressful with exams, so I thought if I came here, it would be relaxing and de-stressing and a good activity to do.”
And, she liked the collaborative aspect.
“It’s one idea and many hands,” said the Toledo native, who hopes to major in electrical engineering.
Carter, who is leaning toward mechanical engineering, agreed that team building was a big part of the project.
“It’s turning an idea into a larger scale, thinking of something and actually doing it,” she explained. “What I’d like to do when I ‘grow up’ is design rides for Disney and become an Imagineer. This gives me a ideas and helps me relate more.”
Lockhead, a nontraditional student who received his engineering degree from the University of Colorado at age 42 and was the on site engineer for three major league baseball parks, said he believes the biggest parallel between art and engineering is creativity – and that the project helped students see how a concept comes to life.
“It’s not only being able to do the math and the science and being able to figure out geometries -- you’re taking knowledge you have and you’re creating something. It’s taking the design and actually building the product.”
For Pidcock, acclimating the first-semester students to the Athens community, and giving them something to feel a part of, was another goal.
“Students should have first-hand knowledge about this wonderful asset that is unique to Athens,” he said. “By assisting with the puppet project, students can take ownership of their creation when it’s on display.”
Honey for the Heart is sponsored by the Ohio University College of Fine Arts, the University’s Learning Community programs and Arts for Ohio.