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Recently Cedar Key School art teacher Debby Manansala saw some digital photos of a competition, purportedly held at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.
The name of the show was "One Sheet of Paper," and the competition rules were simple - artists could have one blank sheet of paper to say anything they wanted.
The works included were amazing. There were ghostly white hummingbirds suspended in front of unglazed porcelain hibiscus blossoms, bleached skeletons contemplating their fleshly human shadows, white mansions and pagodas, and lakeside houses menaced by rolling boulders of snow.
The artist or artists made the pieces by cutting pieces from the single sheet of white paper, then folding, pasting and arranging a two- and three-dimensional tableau. Manansala looked at the pictures and was inspired, and felt sure her high school art class would be, too.
"I showed them the pictures, and told them that our project would have one more rule - that all the works would have a theme of the problems that the world is dealing with today," she said. "Before they started working, we sat down and brainstormed a list of some of the problems our society is facing."
The outcome was as amazing, in its way, as the works that inspired the class in the first place. Students took on war, deforestation and urban encroachment, loneliness, alienation, abortion and pollution. Lacking the time, practice and an endless supply of X-Acto knives favored by 3-D paper artists, the works the Cedar Key students produced were simple, but powerful.
Evan Lyons' "Deforestation" shows a stark wasteland of fallen trunks and fresh-cut stumps. Amid the devastation, foxes, bears and raccoons stalk the naked land, looking for shelter.
"Abortion," by Jordan Watson, shows a small, box-like building flanked by protesters. A gravid paper silhouette walks toward the entrance, while a different, slender figure walks out the exit.
Nick Gentry's "Loneliness" shows a man in a parking lot, with people all around him. He, however, is removed from his peers by their uniform distance from him, and by a circle cut in the pavement that he cannot step out of.
Manansala says she normally makes a sample piece herself for students to examine, but didn't do so this time.
"I just showed them the pictures in the competition and told them they couldn't copy them. I did show them how to cut out the shape of the person."
Although this art class, like the others at Cedar Key School, has done stellar work all year, Manansala said this time they really rose to the occasion.
"The projects turned out much more successfully than I thought," she said.
And the Hirshhorn exhibit? Turns out the whole project was the work of Danish artist Peter Callesen. It's unclear where the chain email came from that told so many people that the paper-cutting exhibit was a contest at the Hirshhorn, since most of the purported entries are or were on display in England, Denmark and South Korea, but all of the pieces can be seen on Callesen's website at www.petercallesen.com.
If it is the job of the artist to capture and involve the viewer, Callesen's work succeeds. On viewing the work of the CKS artists, it appears theirs does, too.
"One sheet of paper, Cedar Key" is presently on display in the Media Center at Cedar Key School. It will be shortly be moved to the lobby of the Cedar Key Beacon on Second Street to become part of the school's Art in the City initiative, joining works currently on display in City Hall and the Public Library.