Artists, engineers, designers, chefs, elementary school students and teachers do not often work together. But Martha Russo, art instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder, has found a way to get all sorts of people involved in a public art project centered on building a picnic table.
Last fall, CU Boulder offered a class called “Art: Aesthetics to Engineering” that combined student artists, engineers and environmental designers to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration. As a part of the class, students Graham Thompson, Laura Smith, Julie Stauffer and Natalie Bognanno worked with Michael Beitz, an assistant professor in the art and art history department, to build a picnic table shaped like an anvil for Jamestown, a small mountain town 10 miles northwest of Boulder.
The inspiration for the table, Russo explains, comes from the Jamestown tradition of shooting an anvil into the sky every Fourth of July. The student artists, designers and engineers from CU Boulder worked on the table itself, and Jamestown Elementary School added the final touches. Under the guidance of the art teachers Beth Brotherton and Lee Massey-Heekin, the 23 elementary students painted the benches that surround the table.
The table was made possible by with private support after Boulder County’s 2013 floods, which hit Jamestown particularly hard. The funding was intended to help the town to make something that would help the community heal.
And the Jamestown community has embraced the project. The CU Boulder students worked with Boulder artist Rebecca DiDomenico and the chef of the Mercantile Cafe, Rainbow Shultz, to organize a sit-down dinner for 55 members of the Jamestown and CU Boulder communities.
“Your students gave our town such a gift… one that we really needed as we have make our way back since the flood,” said Val Fike, a Jamestown resident.
This project is one in a series of artistic tables designed and made under the direction of Beitz. His art practice focuses on ideas about tables, space and bringing communities together. His large-scale works are exhibited nationally and internationally, including in Europe, South America and Russia.
For the CU Boulder students, by the end of the semester-long class, the artists, designers and engineers began to better appreciate each other’s fields.
“When everyone came to class the first day, we were all a bit nervous,” says Russo. “The artists and designers haven’t been around many engineers, and the engineers haven’t been around many artists. By the end of the class, the students realized that their worlds are not all that different. The common denominators are that everyone likes to problem solve, make stuff and, ultimately, work together. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to bring this type of curriculum to CU Boulder and out into the community at large.”
Russo received her bachelor’s degree in developmental biology and psychology from Princeton University before earning a MFA from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1995. She is a practicing visual artist and a CU instructor who teaches interdisciplinary classes with students from the Art and Art History Department, College of Engineering and the Environmental Design Program.
The anvil picnic table will be placed in Elysian Park, the big park in the heart of Jamestown, on May 21.