Artist visits Bedford to help students render new outdoor sculpture

Students in art classes at Bedford High worked for three weeks with visiting artist Mark Ragonese, a Vermont artist and teacher renowned for his sculpted furniture and other artworks made of natural materials.

The sculpture he and the students made now graces the lawn at the school and provides a colorful welcome.

Teachers Catherine Tuttle and Anne Lederhos and more than 90 students helped design and build the new sculptural installation under Ragonese’s counsel and hands-on assistance.

The structure, made of river driftwood, features nine-foot-tall capital letters and spells out “THE BHS ART BOX.”

The work, secured to a metal framework, was created by students in the classes, Painting 1 and 2, Drawing 2 and IB Visual Arts 1 and 2.

Ragonese spends time in residencies of a day, a week or longer, depending on the projects under consideration at the schools he visits.

Ragonese recently said it was satisfying to see the students’ enthusiasm build as the project progressed.

“When we all saw the letters standing up for the first time against the outside walls of the art rooms there was a shared joy and sense of accomplishment among us,” Ragonese said. “It’s the feeling I always hope to have growing during a residency but it requires a level of engagement and these kids brought it each day.”

He said the students were willing to take a chance on the idea. Success was not a sure thing, he added.

“They worked together through trial and error to achieve some degree of faith and confidence that we could find success,” Ragonese said. “That’s art. That’s why I say that art is a verb. Investing your energy in outlandish endeavors to achieve things is good for us. As with everything in life, it takes practice.”

Wielding the paints most intensively, at one time or another, were Riley Ewing, 17, Alexandra Sokol, 16, Allison Gilbert, 17, Rachel Byrne, 16, Kiah Conway, 16, Kasey Jachowicz, 16, Alexandra Withee, 16, Kenna Marquis, 17, Trent Fortune, 18, Pervesh Jaswal, 17, Nathan Ouellet, 15, and Colin Cashin, 16. Most are juniors and seniors. A few are sophomores.

Tuttle, an art teacher at the high school since 2007, said the finished work is a surprise to visitors and new students approaching the school building.

“Our initial idea was to create something that was an enclosure, made of painted wood, and distinctive from other sculptures on the school grounds,” Tuttle said. “Students worked together to make the art box idea come to life. In fact, it is larger than life.”

The project was a community effort and supported by a grant from the Bedford Parent Teacher Group.

“Working on the project taught the students about the challenges and rewards involved in making large-scale, outdoor sculpture,” Tuttle said. “Mark inspired the students to build a noteworthy sculpture, something that has not been seen at the school before.”

Lindsey Poremba, a senior in IB Visual Arts 2, reflected on the experience. She said the visiting artist shared many new ideas.

“Mark was great to work with and had a lot of ideas that were new to me,” Poremba said. “I have never experimented with sculpture before. I like how you can take materials from the environment and use your creativity to transform them into something else.”

Tuttle added kudos for all the students of the school for the respect they have shown to the new artwork and to all the sculptures installed at the school over the years. She also extended thanks to the administration for supporting something new and to the Bedford PTG for funding the project.

“All of us are living up to the school idea of going beyond our comfortable limits by embracing new ideas and challenges,” Tuttle said. “This was a great, creative experience.”