By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
CARL JUNCTION, Mo. —
Carl Junction Junior High art students set the bar high, said organizers of a public event that will showcase their work in downtown Pittsburg, Kan.
“I’m just blown away,” said event organizer Steve Robb after a ceremonial unveiling Tuesday night of 13 metal coal buckets, each painted with the students’ designs. “They’re just amazing. This really sets the bar way up there.”
Their buckets will join 18 others created by groups of students at Pittsburg High School and Martin Luther School in Joplin — all set to be unveiled next week — for a display in storefronts on Broadway in Pittsburg.
The student display is in conjunction with the inaugural SEK Art Fest, a public art installation of 26 giant fiberglass coal buckets underwritten by businesses and decorated by adult artists in the style of the famed Cow Parade of larger metropolitan areas.
From early June through Labor Day, the statues are slated to line Broadway, from Second Street to Sixth Street. The exhibit was scheduled to coincide with a Smithsonian Institution exhibit, “The Way We Worked,” which opens May 11 at the Franklin (Kan.) Miners Museum and is expected to attract 18,000 visitors to the area.
On Labor Day weekend, the statues will be auctioned as part of the annual heritage festival in Pittsburg known as Little Balkans Days, named after the area in Europe from which immigrants to the area came. After settling in this area, most became coal miners or worked in industries that supported coal mining.
Robb, of Pittsburg, who was the brainchild behind the SEK Art Fest, said the event’s steering committee notified all area schools in an effort to get student involvement. The group offered coal buckets on which the students could paint.
Carl Junction art teacher Elizabeth Cosby was the first to respond. She was one of the adult artists chosen to paint one of the large-scale coal buckets, and she was excited for her students to have the chance to display their work publicly. But she also saw other benefits to their participation.
“As with any process as an artist, they had to learn to change, compromise and adapt along the way,” she said. “Working collaboratively was the biggest thing, and meeting a goal and not falling behind. They had to make a commitment that they bought into.”
Her students spent four days working on their designs on paper and four weeks painting them on the buckets.
“It had the challenge of having to be something that would go around a three-dimensional piece,” Cosby said. “And it also had to reflect what this community is all about — although that could be in an abstract way.”
The students chose vivid colors to depict rainbows, a bald eagle, sporting motifs, a camping scene, and handprints with patterns and textures. Some added glitter; others added three-dimensional craft items like ladybugs, flowers and smiley faces.
“All are great,” said Mark Johnson, a Pittsburg resident and steering committee member for the SEK Art Fest, as he leaned in to take photographs after the unveiling. “Just great.”
Carl Junction resident Misty Scott took photographs from all angles of the bucket her daughter, seventh-grader Megan Scott, helped create.
“She really enjoyed it,” Scott said. “She’s enjoyed getting to do a group project with other kids, and knowing that it will be on display for the public to see made her pretty proud. We’ll go to Pittsburg to see them when they’re set up.”
WHILE THE STUDENTS’ COAL BUCKETS are on display, visitors may pick up a “bucket list” at participating merchants in downtown Pittsburg. The list will be composed of questions about each of the 31 buckets. Lists may be turned in for a chance to be entered in a drawing for gift certificates.