Neary art students use knitting to demonstrate “Together We Mend”

Above: Neary students wove and tied together a massive amount of yarn to contribute to the Mending themed art exhibit at Beals Preserve this summer. (contributed photos)*

Yesterday, I shared details on the upcoming 2021 Art on the Trails. As promised I’m following up with information about one special exhibit – “Together We Mend” by Southborough’s Neary School students. The school is inviting the public to view the installation this weekend.

This is the third year that Neary Art Teacher Denise Johnson has submitted a student project for the exhibit. (In 2018, the students created “Forever Woven”, a woven Mobius strip sculpture. In 2019, students painted over 260 “Hope Sticks”.**)  This year, they collaborated to knit a “thread” that was just measured at over a 1/4 of a mile long.

Under supervision of art teacher Denise Johnson, Neary students wove this mobius strip to include in the 2018 exhibit (photo from Facebook) Hope Sticks by Denise Johnson and Neary School students - 2019 Art on the Trails Neary 2021 Art on the Trails project - Together We Mend

This year’s theme “Mending”, calling on artists “to consider how we can repair our fractured world through art and make our community and relationships stronger and more resilient”. The concept inspired Johnson to think of a giant needle and thread:

Neary 5th graders, L-R: Sadie McClelland, Stephen Murphy, Owen Poirier, Rowan Henson, Ella Zelnick, and Sarojini Nath (contributed)she thought about sewing and that when our clothes become torn or the stitches unravel, we mend them. The idea of mending our clothing to strengthen the garment and make it last longer provided a nice, symbolic idea to which her students could relate. She also thought that students could knit in colors to represent causes they feel need mending.

That excerpt is from a detailed write-up the school shared. It includes a link to a recording of some of the student artists that will be accessible at the exhibit via a QR code for those with smartphones. (You can listen to that here.)

Neary students measure the Ball of Yarn (from Facebook)The school also shared info on how the project incorporated remote students and was integrated into the math curriculum through an estimation exercise. Scroll down for all of those details.

This weekend the project will be installed along the Beals Preserve trail. (It’s described as “a five foot needle overhead with the thread wrapping and weaving itself around trees and into the pine forest” next to the Riding Ring trail.

(Don’t worry about that becoming a future mess. Art on the Trails’ “Leave No Trace” rules dictate that the project will be taken down at the end of the exhibit, which runs through September 26th.)

If you’d like to see the project installed, that’s scheduled for Saturday, June 12th. (The official schedule is 11:00 am, but the school indicates they’ll be there from 10:00 am – 12:30 pm.) If you can’t make it, Art on the Trails organizers do plan to interview and live stream artists at work this weekend over Facebook(You can also check out videos of the 2018 and 2019 Neary installation work here.)

To find the installation, this weekend or over the summer, look for exhibit #15 on the exhibit map.

Below is the rest of the write-up shared by the school: 

The beautiful Beals Preserve trails will soon be transformed into a magical, outdoor art exhibit. Southborough artist Catherine Weber began this treasured event five years ago and it continues to attract artists from near and far. This year’s Art on the Trails theme is Mending. Like Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by joining the pieces with gold, and making the pottery stronger and more valuable in the process, artists were asked to consider how we can repair our fractured world through art and make our community and relationships stronger and more resilient. The 2021 Art Juror Sarah Montross, Interim Creative Director and Senior Curator at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, selected 19 of the 63 entries to be on display from the weekend of June 12 and 13 through September 26, 2021.

Neary School Art teacher, Denise Johnson, walks the Beals Preserve trails often and loves to get her students involved in this juried event. . .

The challenges of coming up with a good idea is twofold: 1. Will the art withstand being outdoors for three months? And, 2. What is a project that will involve her 256 fourth and fifth grade students? Johnson came up with the idea of an oversized needle and thread. She wasn’t sure how she would come up with a giant needle, but she decided to teach the students loom or French knitting using a simple loom constructed of toilet paper rolls, popsicle sticks, and masking tape. Students would knit on looms to create cords, and the cords would be sewn together to create one long “thread”. She sketched a picture and submitted her idea.

Back in April, Jen Hanson, a parent of a fourth grade student at Neary, rallied parents and soon looms were made and yarn was wrapped onto small pieces of cardboard to prepare for the knitting lesson. Ryan Henebury and his son, James, answered the call and offered to create the oversized needle. They fashioned an amazing five foot sewing needle out of pine wood. Now it was time to begin knitting!

As an art lesson this project, with a five foot needle, clearly demonstrates the element and impact of scale, but color also plays a big part. Students could choose colors of yarn to represent causes close to their hearts. Maybe they would choose shades of blue to represent their desire to protect marine wildlife or the importance of clean water; green may represent environmental causes; or shades of brown could symbolize racial harmony and respect. Or students could simply knit in their favorite colors.

Each and every student at Neary learned to knit including two classes who are learning remotely this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not an easy task to learn to knit via Zoom! But, just as we have all had to demonstrate a lot of perseverance this past year, students stepped up to the challenge.

When Johnson began this art project with her students, they did not know if their entry would be chosen for this year’s Art on the Trails event, but in order to implement the plan, they needed to start early. They began knitting in April and in May the students celebrated the news that out of the 63 entries their art was one of the 19 pieces accepted into the exhibit.

With added excitement, students caught the knitting bug and continued knitting at home and during their free time. Johnson continued to wrap more yarn to provide more skeins for her young knitters (finding it hard to keep up at times!). Sadie McClelland holds the record for the longest knitted cord. She rolled her ball of yarn down the Neary hallway outside of her classroom on May 26th and her classmates celebrated its impressive measurement of 77 feet 8 inches!

Just how long the collective thread had grown was revealed on Wednesday, June 2nd when around 85 fifth grade students and teachers unraveled the large ball of yarn to measure it. Thomas Sinclair and Lizzie Smith threaded the needle and began walking as classmates, like playful kittens, spun the large ball of “thread” to unwind it. Other students grabbed hold of the cord and walked the “thread” from the school’s cafeteria, to the end of the field, across the field, and back to the school.

Fifth grade student Sam Herbold stepped in with a measuring wheel and after walking about a quarter of a mile he reached the needle. The big reveal–256 Neary students had knitted a 1,499 foot cord of yarn to serve as the thread in their “Together We Mend” art installation. Some loose strands continue to find their way to Mrs. Johnson’s desk and she will continue to sew them onto the collective cord until the needle and thread are installed along the wooded Riding Ring trail. Imagine a five foot needle overhead with the thread wrapping and weaving itself around trees and into the pine forest.

The week prior to the big reveal, fifth grade teacher Jen Turieo set up our Estimation Station where students were provided some basic information about the project and were challenged to estimate the length of the collective cord. The top two estimators were Rowan Henson and Stephen Murphy, both projecting 1,500 feet. They were only 1 foot off–amazing! Runners Up were Ella Zelnick, Sarojini Nath, & Owen Poirier each within 50 feet of 1,499. The closest grade 4 student was Robert Duguid, guessing 1,264 feet.

Together We Mend will be installed on Beals Preserve on June 12th from 10:00-12:30. The public is welcomed to stop by to see this as well as other art installations take place. Art remain up for all to enjoy through September 26th. Although Johnson submitted the artist statement to be placed on a plaque near their work, the voices that will be heard on a recording that can be accessed by a QR code will be of nine of the Neary artists. Please take a listen to Avery Logan, Colby Hansen, Jackson Leblanc, Julia Davie, Lucia Tomaino, Maggie Green, Maria Glaser, Milo Holschlag, and Peyton Lohwater.

For a picture of the Henebury’s with the giant needle, and some Neary students at work knitting earlier this spring, check out an article in the Community Advocate. If you’re curious about the knitting process, I found a YouTube tutorial you can try out here.

*Top right contributed photos features Neary 5th graders, L-R: Sadie McClelland, Stephen Murphy, Owen Poirier, Rowan Henson, Ella Zelnick, and Sarojini Nath

**In 2020, the pandemic prevented collaborating on an exhibit. That spring, Neary students were encouraged to use art to spread kindness around town through Kindness Rocks, uplifting messages/pictures in windows, or chalk messages.

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