With a power drill in hand, Denise Hughes enjoyed helping elementary students drill plastic tops into a board to create a colorful masterpiece.
Hughes, a mural and painting artist, traveled from Raleigh to show how something simple as plastic caps can make art. A rural theme was used to tie in with the project, “Our Home, Our World, Our Responsibility,”which represents Clinton and North Carolina. Some of those features include pink dogwood trees and people of different backgrounds and races working together. The first half was completed at Sunset Avenue School. It will be displayed Saturday during the Court Square Street Fair in Downtown Clinton.
She was approached by the Sampson Arts Council after learning about her work with plastic caps. Hughes used 12,000 of them to make an image of Sir Walton Raleigh. North Carolina’s state capital is named after the historic explorer.
The work is viewed as upcycling, a process of using discarded objects or materials to create something of higher value than its original purpose.
“The plastic caps are not recycled in most places, compared to the bottles that they come on,” Hughes said.
Years ago, Hughes began collecting caps for recycling and educational purposes at schools. They were mailed to her from different parts of the United States and even countries such as the Netherlands.
“I never know what I’m going to come home to,” Hughes said about the abundance of plastic tops.
The Sampson Arts Council assisted with collecting plastic caps. Kara Donatelli, executive director of the Arts Council, is excited to partner with the Clinton Main Street Program and Hughes.
“We’re thrilled to have Denise,” Donatelli said. “She’s been really easy to work with and she’s had a positive impact on our county.”
Donatelli also encouraged everyone to be a part of the project during the downtown celebration on Saturday.
“It’s important for people to know that they’ve been part of something big for our community,” she said.
In addition to helping the environment, Hughes added that the children enjoyed the hands-on aspect too.
“It’s fun for them and it’s empowering because most of them have never used an electric drill,” Hughes said about the thrill of installing the caps.
For Hughes and the creators, another fun part is using discarded toys for hide-and-seek purposes and games.
“The kids love to see their characters hidden in the leaves and trees,” she said. “It’s fun for the kids and it adds more interest to the artwork.”
Hughes is excited about the public viewing the project, which took six days to complete.
“It’s been amazing working with the people of Clinton,” Hughes said. “They’ve been phenomenally supportive and super nice. The volunteers have been great and it’s a great community to work with.”
The project was made possible through the Simple Gifts Fund, which provides financial assistance to educators for unique opportunities. Program coordinator Margaret Turlington said it gives students a chance to meet an artist and learn about art in a different way through recycling.
“In Clinton you shouldn’t be putting the plastic lids in your recycling,” Turlington said about the higher amount of heat required to melt the caps. “Many people forget and they throw the lids away. Some recycling places don’t even recycle them if you leave that lid on there.”
Turlington said it’s great to see children learn how discarded items can become art.
“It gives the opportunity to learn about art in a different way,” Turlington said. “They grow by having this opportunity and seeing colors, drilling … there’s so many things from something so simple that can enrich the kids.”
Rachel Lane, planner for the City of Clinton, showed appreciation for the collaboration efforts. After completion, the work will be added to Clinton’s Downtown Recycle Art Walk (DRAW) on Ferrell Street. It’s a collaborative effort between Main Street Program’s Design Committee, the Sampson Arts Council and the Public Works Department of Clinton. More work will be added in the future.
“It’s nice to see that we can bring really cool things to a small community with the help of everybody pitching in and making it work,” Lane said. “It’s been fun.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.