AUGUSTA — Maranacook Community High School art teacher Jeremy Smith said a lot of his students don’t know they’re gifted. After spending several hours working with professional sculptors, he hopes their perceptions of their abilities have changed.

Smith and colleague Tom Ferrero took 23 students to the Viles Arboretum this week for the third annual Sculptor’s Symposium.

“It was amazing,” Smith said by phone Thursday. “The sculptors were so approachable and it made the connection to our curriculum hands-on, so everyone was breathing this excitement.”

Working with their hands is not something the high school students do very often. Most students have cellphones or tablets, and a lot of their daily classroom experience uses technology, so getting outdoors and getting dirty was a welcome change.

“It was so real, because as we were working on our sculptures, you could hear the grinding coming from the professionals,” Smith said. “We’re working hard and they were working hard. It would’ve had such a different vibe if the sculptors weren’t there.”

One of the sculptors, Lise Becu, of Tenants Harbor, was working on an 8-foot, 1,500-pound totem of a woman, a child and a peacock meant to symbolize a mother watching out for her child. She was impressed by what she’d seen from the students during the week.

“They were absolutely amazing, and some of the work they were producing is mind-blowing,” said Becu, who is originally from Canada and moved to Maine nearly 40 years ago. “They were out of school, they were outside and they were having fun hanging out with us.”

Becu became intrigued by sculpting when she was a young girl living in Quebec, so she started exploring and trying different things. She’s been doing it for a living for more than four decades and thinks these types of activities are good ways to get young people interested in sculpting.

“For some of the kids that came through this week, this may ignite a spark inside them to maybe someday become a stone sculptor,” she said. The art scene in Portland is “quite something, and with the internet, there is an unlimited marketplace” for someone to sell their work, so it can be a career for someone with the right talent.

Sculptor and former art teacher Anne Alexander agreed that there is a place for sculptors in Maine, particularly because of all of the raw materials that are readily available, including granite. However, she said, selling pieces is harder in Maine because of the economy.

“Not everybody in Maine can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a piece for their garden,” she said.

Maranacook is trying to grow its sculpture department, and Smith said the staff has discussed doing some online fundraising to get more tools, which can be expensive for a small school district. He said the majority of the students on the trip were focused and “blown away” by the experience. He credits his school for thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to the arts.

“When I first heard about this experience, my head was buzzing,” he said. “We jumped at the opportunity, and the impact it’ll have on the kids is great.” Plus, he said, it was professional development for him and Ferrero.

The younger children got especially excited about seeing adults making large sculptures, and they are able to make a connection to the art they do in their classroom, Alexander said.

“The kids like using tools and are ravenous about getting their hands dirty,” Alexander said. “We don’t do that much in school anymore, but kids need that tactile quality, and it really gets them excited.”

Mark DesMeules, the arboretum’s executive director, said the symposium’s goal is to make engaging and memorable connections to nature. He says it’s important for children to know that connection exists.

“Children need to know that a connection to nature, and in this case, to art, is a refuge we all must know about so we can, at times, remove ourselves from the hectic and electronic assault we experience from smart phones and tablets,” DesMeules said in an email. “Connections to nature offer a readily available place for all of us to catch some down time and to maintain a connection to our real roots.”

For the sculptors, the symposium provides an opportunity to share ideas and knowledge and to give advice. Alexander said she’d be asking for some advice about tools because she’s planning to buy new ones soon.

“In Maine, sculptors tend to get isolated, so this events helps build the community of sculptors,” Alexander said. “We help each other, and it’s for the public to come out and see what work going into making some of the pieces they see on the (arboretum) grounds.”

The symposium ends with a reception at 4 p.m. Saturday where the students’ pieces made throughout the week will be displayed alongside the work of the participating professional sculptors.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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