High school senior turns found objects into art
Ten minutes after the last bell rang, Arden Baxter buzzed into the local Goodwill store on her weekly after-school scavenger hunt. She wasn’t searching for anything in particular, but she was confident that the missing piece she needed would find her as she browsed through the aisles. Her treasure peeked up at her from among the gently-used teddy bears and previously-loved board games. The bald Cabbage Patch baby doll was exactly what her sculpture needed.
Seventeen-year-old Arden gravitates toward sculpture and ceramics because she enjoys the variety these media offer, and she loves working with different materials and textures. She sculpts primarily with found objects. Arden explains, “I usually have a theme that I’m working with, and then I’ll come up with the [mixed] media that best show it.”
One of her sculptures, The Thief of Childhood, is a statement on how television has displaced children’s imaginations and the creativity they develop by playing with toys and interacting with people. Arden started the project after finding an old, boxy TV. She removed the tube and was left with just the TV’s shell, in which she began arranging her old toys. “I started playing with the depths because I wanted to show the different layers,” Arden says. “When I had it together, it didn’t seem cohesive enough, so I waited a bit, mulled it over, and realized that if I had one unison color, it would kind of tie everything together.” Once she was satisfied with each toy’s placement, she spray painted the entire sculpture a lackluster gray to symbolize the emotionless interaction and detachment of the TV versus vibrant, imaginative play.
Following The Thief of Childhood, Arden completed The Great Divide sculpture, a visual commentary on how women balance gender scripts within the workforce and at home. Arden strung lengths of chain in uniform rows on one side of a discarded mannequin. On its other side, she glued delicate white feathers in an upward direction. She then went over the silver chains with white spray paint to unify the piece and emphasize the difference in texture rather than color.
“I really like the contrast between chain and feathers,” Arden says. “I thought that contrast really got across my point of the clash between being independent and having your own career yet also being what society feels as feminine and taking care of the children and the motherly side of women.” She explains that her “intention for the piece was that the chain represented women being strong, independent, and self-empowered, while the feathers symbolized the softer, more feminine side of women, like motherhood and other gender scripts. However, the piece is up for other interpretations depending on the feelings of the viewers. [The piece] is really trying to balance both.”
The task of attaching the chains to the mannequin posed its share of snags; the tedious process yielded quite a few scratches on her hands. She says, “With the different curves of the mannequin, it was really hard to get the chain to do what I wanted it to do. I followed the contours of the body; that was probably the most difficult part.”
Carol Watson, Arden’s art teacher, has been instrumental in encouraging her innate talent and cultivating her artistic interests. Carol describes Arden as “tough as nails. She’s ambitious and she thinks. She’s tenacious; Arden has a lot of intellectual stamina.” There’s usually a method to Arden’s madness; she rarely begins a piece without planning, preparing, and organizing her plan of action.
A mathematician at heart, Arden feels that she often processes information with the left side of her brain, the side that some experts believe focuses more on logic and sequencing and less on intuition and feelings. “I always think a lot about my pieces,” she says, “and Mrs. Watson has made me think less and put more emotion in it. She knows I overanalyze; I think I’ve tried to relinquish some control and just go with the flow.”
Arden is already a few months into Mrs. Watson’s AP Art Portfolio class, and she’s working to create a portfolio to submit to colleges. “It’s 3D, so it incorporates both sculpture and ceramics, which I’m really excited about,” she says. The portfolio is a collection of eight to twenty-four pieces, ten of which will culminate in a concentration piece linked by a common theme or idea.
“So far, I’ve created mostly sculptures,” Arden says, “but this past year I worked in ceramics and really enjoyed it. I might investigate more ceramics. . . .” She is considering a ceramics dishware series; however, she adds, “I am thinking about exploring more about the human form or the topic of women in history.”
“I’m the type of person that picks one thing that is way too ambitious and ends up spending half the year on it,” she confesses. “So I need to scale down and make sure that I get a lot of my pieces done!”
Undoubtedly, this resolution means many more trips to her favorite thrift shop to prowl for new treasures just waiting to be transformed into art.