MONROE, Maine — When Hampden Academy told students last spring that they could help build the next school mascot — a bronze bronco statue — Kelsey Price, 16, of Newburgh was instantly excited about it. But soon after the initial meetings, the teen was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Saturday was the first time she got to see the beginning phases of the statue.
Price pushed gray clay into a wood and wire horse-shaped mold that towered above her at 9 feet tall.
“I can finally do this,” Price said. “Before I just laid in bed. I always did art, though. Art has been a lifesaver through this whole thing.”
The teen, who is about to enter chemotherapy, has a hard time concentrating on some things.
“They call it ‘chemo brain.’ You can only focus on certain things. I’m in [advanced placement] art, but I can’t focus in science class,” Price said.
That makes art feel especially therapeutic, she said. It’s the one thing she can focus on and enjoy.
Price was one of several students working on the project Saturday. Hampden Academy, which is currently in a building constructed in 1843, already has a bronze bronco statue, but because it is a historic landmark, the school cannot move the mascot from the site when the current school closes. The students will move across the street to a new building next year, but the old bronco must stay in its place.
Hampden Academy brings about six students over each Saturday morning. The students sign up through the art department and they are brought from Hampden to Monroe, where artist Forest Hart teaches the teenagers how to make the sculpture — and the process is intensive.
The students started by drawing diagrams of the horse. They then had to measure and make wood and wire frames to create the bronco. Saturday they filled in the frame with clay and evened it out. Eventually they will paint the clay with rubber and the rubber will be coated in plaster. That mold will be broken into 130 pieces and each will be painted with wax. The wax mold then will be dipped in ceramic. That ceramic is then filled with the bronze. Once the ceramic is sandblasted off the sculpture, the 130 pieces will be welded back together to form the horse.
The artist will then work on finishing the sculpture’s texture. The horse will be exposed to chemicals that will color it.
Only the finishing process will be done without the students, Hart said. Hart is an artist who makes bronze sculptures of animals. He also is a 1961 graduate of Hampden Academy, where he made the school’s original bronze bronco, which rears up on Route 1. Like that horse, made in 1992, this one will be funded by Hart selling 70 smaller versions of the same statue. The foot-tall, tabletop statue costs $2,600 and $1,500 is tax-deductible and goes to building the monument at the school.
“We are absolutely thrilled about this,” Hampden Academy principal Ruey Yehle said as she helped push clay onto the horse frame. “They will take ownership of this bronco and they’ll take a lot of pride in it.”
Plus, it’s not every day that a student gets to work in a real artist’s studio.
“They have never been able to work on something like this in art class. We don’t have the facilities and we don’t know how to do it. Forest is a world-renowned artist.”
Jacob Beaulier, 15, of Winterport, is in 10th grade at Hampden Academy and has been helping build the sculpture since last spring when the project started.
“I’ve learned a lot. I learned everything. I had no idea how to do any of this — how to scale and make drawings,” Beaulier said as he chopped clay. He particularly likes doing hands-on work with Hart, he said. “My teachers know about lots of things, but he knows a lot about one thing. It’s different. Plus, this is hands-on.”
Beaulier would like to have a career with computers someday. He thinks this sort of experience will help with graphic design and 3D modeling skills.
Hart said the learning goes both ways.
“Sometimes — because they’re not very knowledgeable about the process — they’ll do something different and you say, ‘That’s a good idea.’ I keep my eye out and I’ve learned a lot,” Hart said.