Neary Elementary School art project once again chosen for Art on the Trails 2021 – Mending

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Neary Elementary students Ashwika Dandu and Hannah Varghese are busy working on their knitted cords for the Art on the Trails 2021 exhibit.

By Cindy Zomar, Education Coordinator

SOUTHBOROUGH – Denise Johnson, Southborough’s Neary Elementary School art instructor, is proud to share that her students’ art project was once again chosen for the Art on the Trails 2021 presentation at the Elaine and Phillip Beals Preserve. Hosted by the Southborough Open Land Foundation, this juried exhibition is an outdoor display held annually with the theme changing year to year. For 2021, the theme is MENDING, asking for projects that depict how we can mend a fractured world of relationships or our communities through art. This year’s juror is Sarah Montross, the Interim Creative Director and Senior Curator at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. 

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Cousins Stephen Murphy and Nathan Glaser enjoy the spring sunshine as they work on their knitted cords for the Art on the Trails 2021 exhibit.

Neary Elementary did not submit an idea last year due to COVID-19. “We are so excited that the two prior years our entry was chosen, and now this year as well, so each time we have submitted! Considering it’s a juried exhibit, that’s good,” she exclaimed. Sixty-three entries were submitted and only eighteen were accepted. She and her students brainstormed an idea, ‘Together We Weave,’ and then Johnson had to do a rough drawing to submit it. “We began knitting right away because if we waited until selections were announced, we’d never have it ready in time! The extra challenge was the two stand-alone remote classes…teaching knitting on ZOOM!”

The entire school of 4th and 5th grade students had the option to join in, with 256 students each knitting a skein of yarn into a narrow cord about one foot long. Several students decided to go longer, or to make more than one, as well. Additionally, students were encouraged to recognize the symbolism in art and perhaps choose a color based on a cause. “The theme is Mending, so it could represent a relationship, the environment, endangered species, etc.,” Johnson continued. “Some chose green for ecology, some blue for water or air pollution, and there’s a variegated brown symbolizing that whether we are white, brown or black, we are all people and need to be accepting and respectful of one another.”

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Former Neary Elementary School student James Henebury and his father, Ryan, created a large wooden needle to be used as a focal point in the Art on the Trails 2021 exhibit.

Parent volunteers coordinated wrapping thread around pieces of cardboard and making homemade looms of toilet paper rolls, masking tape and popsicle sticks for each student.  Johnson envisioned a large needle as a focal point and former Neary student James Henebury worked with his father, Ryan, fashioning a five-foot-long needle out of wood. “It will be suspended overhead on heavy fishing line, like it is levitating, with thread through it and then the thread will be looped around the trees,” explained Johnson. The installation is scheduled for June 12 from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. The exhibit will be on display through September 26, so it has to be able to withstand the forces of nature for about three months. Johnson is sewing all the individual pieces together, mainly at home.  The installation event will be livestreamed on Facebook, but she expects a lot of parents to come out to watch in person.

As Johnson told the Community Advocate, “This is such a different experience with art. I am really grateful that we have it right here and have been chosen each time we’ve submitted. It is such a good theme this year, and so appropriate, that we hope to incorporate the needle and thread idea into something in the building in the fall.” 

The 55-acre Beals Preserve features hiking trails, a skating pond, and meadows, offering a quiet place to fish, hike, ice skate, snowshoe, walk the dog, or just enjoy nature. It is located off of Route 30 in Southborough.