AYER -- The eye-catching pop-up decorating the front lawn at Page Hilltop Elementary School looks like a huge, mulch-colored balloon creature, perhaps a dragon or sea serpent, its puffy plastic skin glinting in the sun. Or maybe it's a maze? A inflatable slide? Something to climb or bounce on?
None of the above. It's student art: A taped-together sculpture made of recycled plastic materials and assorted pieces of junk that included a bench, a car seat and an umbrella, all trucked in for the purpose.
Created rather than conjured, this whimsical thingamajig is one of many such temporary installations facilitated by the Revolving Museum, an arts and crafts-inspired road show making the rounds this summer, sparking the imaginations and inventive talents of youngsters throughout the region. This piece -- "Recycled Rodeo" -- was done by students in the Ayer Shirley Regional School District's Summer Literacy Program, a.k.a., "Lit Camp."
One recent morning, a visitor got a close-up look at the piece and met some of the kids who built it.
The group of Page Hilltop and Lura A. White Elementary School students, set to enter second and third grades, respectively, when the new school year starts, were enjoying their final week of Lit Camp when they showed up for an interview, toting colorfully-illustrated reports they'd written about the project.
Alice Robinson, Alexa Finchum, Jacob Farrar, Bryce Jones, Noah Carvelli and Charlotte O'Neill talked about their work on the project and read from their reports, each telling the story in a slightly different way, using descriptive terms and telling details.
They also identified which parts of the sculpture they'd worked on.
"I did the reindeer," said Bryce, pointing to an antlered critter paired with a chair seat that suddenly appeared amid a tangle of sinuously twisted shapes. "Jerry taped on the chair," he said.
The helping hand Bryce referred to was Jerry Beck, the Revolving Museum's founder and artistic director. Each project is an artistic adventure as well as an educational enterprise, according to Beck.
"There's a certain magic that happens with the Recycled Rodeo," he said, calling it an "ecological-focused and collaborative public art program." The process, he said, involves wrapping a "colorful tape product" around an assemblage of discarded objects to create something "wildly fun" and "meaningful" for everybody involved. "The kids were so happy and energized making this expressive artwork," he said.
Which is, not coincidentally, part of what the ASRSD "Lit Camp" is all about and why Superintendent Mary Malone invited Beck and his Revolving Museum to the Page Hilltop campus this summer.
The Summer Literacy Program (for grades 1-9) offers "extended-year learning" during the long summer break, when some students tend to lose some of the ground gained during the academic year. Combining traditional "camp" with a classroom-based agenda, the curriculum includes read-aloud and whole group instruction, creative literacy-building activities and individual reading time. Offered for the first time this year, Summer Lit Camp was taught by ASRSD staff members Lindsay Colello and Stephanie Marchand.