When Sally Teasdale, an art teacher at New London Middle School, saw a sturgeon for the first time she immediately thought it would be a "great project for kids to design."
Not only did she think that, but she acted on it, and around 12 years ago she had her students design their own papier mache sturgeon.
"I had the kids do it as a year project," Teasdale said. "At the end of the semester you had to have the sturgeon done. A lot of the kids did it at home with their parents. They came back with it made out of wood; they were made out of different types of materials that I would have never thought of — broken glass and all these different types of materials."
That changed when Lisa Daly, another art teacher at New London Middle School, decided to have her students do the papier mache sturgeon project as an in class project. Word of the sturgeon project spread to the community and around five years ago, an opportunity arose for them to be displayed for the community to see.
"We kept doing it every year and then Mike Hibbard from Mosquito Hill Nature Center came and said, ‘I hear you have sturgeon, can we put them out for display?’" Teasdale said.
Each year, the new batch of papier mache sturgeon made at the New London Middle School is put on display at Mosquito Hill Nature Center.
"We’re bringing art into the community. It’s what’s important to the community and makes New London unique," Teasdale said. "Mosquito Hill really does a good job of showcasing our artwork. For some, it might be the only time they have their artwork on display."
Mary Swifka of Mosquito Hill Nature Center said the sturgeon on display each year enhances the seasonal sturgeon exhibition at Mosquito Hill and provides educational information for when the sturgeon are spawning and active.
"The New London teachers have been inspired by this natural experience and use this project as a way for their students to learn about sturgeon and also exercise some creativity in the art class," Swifka said. "Students sometimes bring their parents and family out so they can show off their pieces. Otherwise we try to point all our visitors down the hallway to give them a chance to take a look because there are some really clever, really creative pieces there."
How the papier mache sturgeon are made
Teasdale said students collect cereal boxes during the year, which are used for the base of the sturgeon. The template for the papier mache sturgeon is 13 inches, which Teasdale said is the size of a sturgeon when it is the same age as the seventh graders involved in the art project.
Before construction of the sturgeon begins, each student has to submit the design they intend to use for their papier mache sturgeon.
"I try to get the students to make a one-of-a-kind, unique design to go with a unique fish we have here in New London," Teasdale said.
Besides the recycled cereal boxes, colored paper that was donated, and newspapers are used to construct the sturgeon.
Two pieces of cereal box are cut out using the sturgeon template. These two pieces are then glued together and stuffed with newspaper and tape. White paper is applied first, and then the students design their sturgeon from their sketches. Paint and whatever the student wants to add to it are used for the outside design.
That’s where they really develop their creativity and they come up with a sense of humor," Teasdale said. "They also want their fish to represent themselves sometimes. I always tell them (students), ‘If somebody looks at it and takes their time looking at it, that’s what you want. You want to have people really interested in what you are doing.’"
For the project this year, Teasdale said the students received help constructing their sturgeon from Rochelle Schroeder, who volunteered her time.
Megan Thurk, a seventh grade student at New London Middle School, said her favorite part of the project was being creative with her ideas and personalizing her sturgeon. Her sturgeon had a code theme.
"It had my own little code on it. It had symbols on it," Thurk said.
She said the difficult part of creating her sturgeon was hand painting every symbol on the sturgeon, while not smudging the symbols she had already painted.
"It took me a long time just to get all the markings on it," she said.
Jon Hensel said he enjoyed learning about sturgeon, and then making his papier mache sturgeon look the way he thinks a sturgeon should look like.
Because Hensel enjoys the outdoors, he designed his sturgeon as a "fishing fish." It included painted fishing lures that were walleye divers, and a nighttime scene with water, the ground and seaweed.
When asked why he chose that design, Hensel said, "Because I really like the outdoors and I like to hunt and fish."
Thurk said she plans on hanging her papier mache sturgeon in her room at home. Hensel said he will hang his in his room at home or possibly in the family room. The papier mache sturgeon will be on display at Mosquito Hill Nature Center until close to the end of the school year.
"I think what it does is gives the students an extra connection to the community," said Terry Wetzel, New London Middle School principal, on the success of the project. "Sturgeon and the history of sturgeon in New London are a big part of this community. The teachers have done a great job in making that connection for the students."
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