Art and science come together like never before

Spring 2017’s Oceans 11 class from J.L. Ilsley High School, with teacher Frank van Blacorn (centre-left), in front of replica seafloor artwork donated to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography

Spring 2017’s Oceans 11 class from J.L. Ilsley High School, with teacher Frank van Blacorn (centre-left), in front of replica seafloor artwork donated to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

What do bathymetric maps and soft porcelain clay have in common? If you’re a student at J.L. Ilsley High School in Halifax, N.S. you know the answer. Last spring, teacher Frank van Blarcom’s Oceans 11 class got to study the ocean floor of the North Atlantic in a creative and non-traditional way. For this lesson, they rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty recreating the ocean floor through art.

Using bathymetric maps (maps that illustrate submerged terrain), students were tasked with recreating the terrain of the seafloor by carving the features into soft porcelain clay tiles. Once the students got the shape mastered, they needed to bring their creation to life by using their knowledge of geology to create paint colours. The class created their own paint colours using raw ochre and iron oxides. Some of the red iron oxides they used were scraped from the rock walls of an old mine shaft while the students were on an expedition into an abandoned iron ore mine. The distinctive yellow, blue and green colours were created by mixing acrylic medium with historic pigments brought in from New York City. Finally, the students accented their piece with handmade creations of real and imagined sea life.

Oceans 11 student paints mermaid clay sculpture to accent seafloor artwork.

Oceans 11 student paints mermaid clay sculpture to accent seafloor artwork.

Frank van Blarcom says at first it took some time for the students to get going but once they got into it, they were totally immersed. “It’s amazing that what started out as 20cm x 30cm blocks of clay turned into this wonderful creation. The sense of pride felt by the students and especially their parents when they saw the end result was extraordinary.”

Oceans 11 students admiring the finished product of their hard work.

Oceans 11 students admiring the finished product of their hard work.

Lending a hand through it all were ceramic artist Sarah Cheetham, oceanographer Kathy Gartner-Kepkay, multimedia teacher Emile Kuchler as well as project coordinator Sabine Fels. The class received financial support for the project through ArtsSmarts Nova Scotia and the Halifax Regional School Board’s Arts Express program.

The students graciously donated the finished piece of artwork to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, N.S. where it is currently on display in the public tour area.

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