To the viewer, the art project Luis Salas created Tuesday afternoon looked like a few clusters of wood pieces glued to a base.
But to the 10-year-old Salas, it was the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
And that was the point of a project this week pairing Brunswick artist Blake Hendrickson with Fairmount School art teacher Stephanie Leonard’s classes of fourth- and fifth-grade students.
“Spend as much time as you can using your imagination, because that’s the important thing here,” Hendrickson told a class of 15 fourth-graders Tuesday afternoon. “Your imagination is a wonderful thing. You could say, this [wood piece] looks like a little guy with a hat, or like a rocket. It all depends on how you look at it.”
Hendrickson, a sculptor of large-scale wood relief panels, had Leonard’s students working on a smaller scale than his own pieces which wind up being several feet in size, but the idea was the same.
The students’ project was to sort through about 750 pounds of wood shavings, turnings, twigs and bark — a “wood block buffet,” as Hendrickson likes to call his boxes and crates of pieces — to create their own relief sculpture on a small wooden base. After the students picked their wood pieces and designed their structure, they used glue to attach the pieces to the base. Later they’ll paint their sculptures.
Hendrickson also spent Monday with senior citizens at the Phillips-Strickland House in Bangor. He estimated he has done wood projects with more than 1,000 people in 2009.
A Virginia native, Hendrickson has exhibited his wood relief sculptures at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport.
He also owns the consulting firm Basic Explanation Studios — his license plate is “EXPLAIN” — which helps organizations explain complicated subjects or issues. His clients include the Maine Health Management Coalition, and the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.
Hendrickson also spent 20 years at Bath Iron Works in several jobs.
Hendrickson got many of his wood pieces from the American Pride factory in Guilford and its sister operation, Maine Wood Turning, in New Vineyard. Part of Hendrickson’s goal for the project is highlighting a traditional industry in the state.
“The Maine wood industry used to be huge and now it’s shrinking steadily,” he said. “They used to have parts coming out of their ears.”
Leonard met Hendrickson during a workshop at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle. She asked Hendrickson to work with her students as a way to encourage them to think about different types of art.
“I’m trying to teach them the difference between realistic and abstract,” she said. “Our fine arts theme this year is ‘Thinking Outside the Box’ and so my hope is they can think beyond the obvious tables, chairs, cars. I want them to think about the shadows, textures, colors of wood. … They love this because it’s not as scripted as some of their lessons.”
As the students glued wood pieces to their bases, the stories behind their creations shifted with their imaginations. Nine-year-old Cole Troppman’s project started out as a police boat, but halfway through he decided it should be an aircraft carrier. Mariah Arey, 10, first wasn’t sure what she was creating, and later decided it was to be a scene of a person building sculptures.
The students seemed to appreciate having a choice of shapes, sizes and textures with which to work.
“I liked walking around, picking random stuff,” Troppman said of the wood buffet.
Over the years, Hendrickson said, the best critics of his work have been children.
“Kids would come around the corner and see the work, drag over their parents and describe what they see,” he said. “Their imagination comes through very strong [in their own wood panels].”