Passing by the courtyard at Robron Centre one can’t help but stop and stare in awe at the larger-than-life unicorn made entirely by driftwood.
Affectionately named “Scirocco” by a student and staff popular vote, the driftwood sculpture was built collaboratively by CAP, Apex, Equinox, Gathering Place and Nexus program students, under the guidance of artist Alex Witcombe of Drifted Creations.
Thanks to a $10,000 ArtStarts in Schools grant, teachers Kash Ward and Emily Kobetitch were able to bring Witcombe into the school for three weeks’ worth of workshops to teach and guide students in the creation of their own individual driftwood art pieces, as well as Scirocco, the school’s giant community sculpture. Witcombe also visited each classroom and shared his personal journey working to become a self-sufficient artist.
“We wanted to bring an artist into the school so that students could learn from an expert and participate in something they wouldn’t normally get to do,” says Kobetitch. “And to build a sense of school community. We tried to get as many students as possible to attach even just one piece and it’s been neat to see friendships develop.”
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. four days a week, Witcombe hung out in what was the school’s former woodwork shop and guided students as they came up with their own project ideas, coaching them to determine the starting position and how to bring their idea to reality.
“Depending on the idea that you are going to build, a pile of driftwood can transform into anything,” says Witcombe. “The pieces look different depending on the idea that you have. So, for example, if a student is doing a salmon, I’d walk them through how to look for the curved gill plates. It’s about teaching students to see the flow or the shape of the wood and see things through a different set of eyes.”
Unlike regular carpentry, there’s no measurement, very limited cutting, and tools were limited to drills and impact drivers.
“I like to keep it simple and get the students’ minds going to finding the right piece of driftwood for their project. It’s been really cool to see the kids develop spatial training and open up to that method.”
For Witcombe, his personal objective could be summed up in one word – engagement.
“I wanted to get the kids engaged,” he says. “To get them excited about working with driftwood, exploring and finding the possibilities in a random pile of wood. It’s been so nice to see some students that had totally no interest in the beginning, fighting not to leave by the end of class – just wanting to put one more piece in place.”
One grade 8 student commented, “I liked the creative freedom to pick my own project. I draw and paint, but never thought I could make either one of these,” pointing to her projects, a driftwood salmon and lingcod. “I could do this all day.”