BUCKSPORT — Museums typically frown on visitors touching the art. Dare to sit on it and you’ll find yourself escorted to the nearest exit — possibly in handcuffs.
But a group of Bucksport Middle School artists have taken a more accessible approach. They’ve transformed castoff lawn furniture into canvases for some of the world’s great masterpieces. Chairs featuring their reproductions of Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Magritte’s “The Son of Man” and other famous works soon will be showcased on Bucksport’s Main Street.
“That’s our contribution of art to the Bucksport community,” explained Laurie Brooks, coordinator of the gifted and talented program at Regional School Unit 25.
Each year, she selects a community project for her eighth-grade gifted and talented art students to undertake. The goal is to showcase student talent and make something beautiful for the community to enjoy.
Past projects have included a mural at the Gardner Commons apartment complex, a peace pole on the Miles Lane trails and paintings of Bucksport scenes on hollow-core doors salvaged from Brooks’ home.
For this year’s project, Brooks scoured yard sales and flea markets for old metal “clamshell” chairs. Rusty and weather-beaten, some of the chairs needed to be reinforced with welding done by students at Bucksport High School.
After sanding, it was time to paint.
Was it harder to paint on a chair than paper?
“Yes!” exclaimed Willa Fox, nodding her head vigorously.
The eighth-grader had to be mindful of areas of wet paint while contorting to access different parts of the chair’s surface. The artwork she selected was “The Son of Man,” René Magritte’s iconic painting of a suited man in a bowler cap, his face obscured by an apple.
“I like how open-minded it is,” Willa said of the project. “There’s a bunch of different ways to go.”
Classmate Liam Swift embraced the project, despite preferring drawing to painting.
“I really like doing landscapes and ‘Starry Night’ is one of my favorites,” he said of his choice.
The students used acrylics to transform the chairs. Brooks then applied three coats of sealer for durability.
Most of the students worked on the chair project throughout the year. Izzy Duke had a late start because she was not admitted to the gifted and talented art program until February.
She selected a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo.
“I usually like to challenge myself,” Izzy said.
The work she’s invested in her chair makes her reluctant to let it go.
“She wants to take it home, and I won’t let her,” Brooks said with a laugh.
“Part of being in a career in art is being able to let go of your art,” she added.
The final details of the downtown exhibit are still being determined, but it is expected to happen around the end of the school year. The businesses that display the chairs will be able to keep them.
Brooks said the project teaches students how to present their art to the public. It also offers lessons in problem-solving and brainstorming. Coming up with a long list of ideas then winnowing that list down to one to focus on is an important skill for middle-schoolers, Brooks explained.
Two other students involved in the project, Hunter Curry and Mia Grollino, painted the “Mona Lisa” and Picasso’s “Seated Woman with Green Shawl.”
The gifted and talented class is different from other art classes in that there are no deadlines or grades. Students have more flexibility regarding the projects they work on and how much time they devote to them.
“I know for some of the students, it’s a real release,” Brooks said.
Students referred to the program must apply by submitting a portfolio of works for consideration.
“This isn’t like a club,” Brooks said. “These students go through a real screening process to get in.”
The chairs will be the final community art project for Brooks, who is retiring at the end of this school year.
“These guys have been wonderful to work with. I’m going to miss them,” she said.