North Fayette Valley sixth graders study the Project AWARE sculptures on display in the atrium in the Upper Iowa University Andres School of Education. The middle school students were on campus to discuss the statewide river cleanup and its publicity efforts through unique sculpture pieces.
FAYETTE, Iowa (November 26, 2013) – It is plausible to say that if you drop a plastic bottle in the river off the Main Street bridge in Fayette, Iowa, eventually it will find its way to the ocean. North Fayette Valley sixth graders came to that conclusion after an educational afternoon at Upper Iowa University. The middle school students participated recently in an interactive session with Dr. Kata McCarville, UIU associate professor of geosciences, and Elissa Wenthe, assistant professor of art. Afterward, they worked in small groups on a scavenger hunt to find certain artifacts represented in the river.
One focal point for the students was a visit to Project AWARE sculptures that are on display in the atrium of the Andres School of Education at the UIU Fayette campus through March 2014. The building is open to the public during school hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The sculptures are part of a nine-year collaborative effort through which volunteers and activists of Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition) have come together to clean up Iowa rivers and streams and, most importantly, to raise awareness of the need to keep the state's waterways clean. Leading the transformation of river trash to art, sculptor and poet David Williamson worked with volunteers at the request of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Since 2004, he has coordinated the effort to create beautifully whimsical sculptures from the mounds of trash and debris.
Over the course of five days during the 2004 Iowa State Fair, more than 400 volunteers worked with Williamson to craft "Fair Catch," an almost 12-foot tall, half-ton metal structure resembling a canoe paddle topped by a stonefly. The entire sculpture was made from materials pulled from the Des Moines River earlier that summer and now sits in the southeast corner of the Andres building.
Most of the trash removed from the rivers is recycled, but some of it is saved for the public process of art at the Iowa State Fair. There, Williamson works with volunteers to envision a sculpture and then bend the metal, or smelt the aluminum trash and cast it in sand molds to create pieces of the sculpture.
"We let the trash do the talking," said Williamson. The people pulling the trash from the river sometimes get an idea of what to create, like "Strongback," which took its initial form from an upside down washing machine agitator. Later, bicycle seat structures were added, along with casted gloves showing the sign-language form of water. "Strongback" is located in front of the staircase in Andres.
Along the north wall of the Andres lobby is a five-foot replica of the security river gates project designed for the Iowa DNR facility at the Iowa State Fair. Each four-panel set weighs 1,000 pounds. It is a legacy artwork in that hundreds of participants can spot a part of the gates they salvaged. The model panel currently on exhibition is a one-half scale. The actual gates are closer to 10-feet in height.
Not only a metalsmith, Williamson is also a wordsmith, crafting words and ideas shared by the Project AWARE volunteers at the State Fair into poems and song lyrics. The earliest poems, "Clear," "Current" and "Bearings" swirl down the page like a river running narrow and fast, and then slow and wide with sandbars. More than 250 people contributed words and phrases that Williamson shaped into the 26-line poem "Clear." The poem "Prospectus" can be found at www.uiu.edu/projectaware.
For more photos of the NFV sixth-grade field trip to UIU, check out www.flickr.com/photos/upperiowauniversity.
About Upper Iowa University Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs and leadership development opportunities to more than 6,200 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and self-paced degree program. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.
Monica Bayer Heaton
Associate Vice President for Communication and Marketing