Behind the Scenes

High school art students star in three-dimensional show

Madelyn Anthony of Scituate glues pieces of cardboard on the Mother Nature sculpture at the art center.
South Shore Art Center
Madelyn Anthony of Scituate glues pieces of cardboard on the Mother Nature sculpture at the art center.

A sculptural installation made entirely of cardboard, “The Garden: Real and Imagined” is the work of 16 high school art students who are strangers to one another, to the material they used, and to the group process required to achieve their vision.

“The only thing that was familiar to them all was the pizza we ordered for lunch,” said Esther Maschio, one of the project’s six artist-faculty advisors.

The show’s three-dimensional pieces include a tree-like image of Mother Nature, two arches for entering and leaving the imaginary garden space, a footbridge encased in vines, and a waterfall with butterflies, frogs, and swirling insects. The installation is featured at South Shore Art Center’s Bancroft Gallery through July 14.


The students come from 12 towns, including Braintree, Norwood, Whitman, and Hanson, and were nominated for the Art Stars program by high school art teachers. Students and professional artists worked together for six Saturdays to choose a theme for the group show, make preliminary drawings, present them to their peers, and work with a variety of specialized techniques to realize their “garden” conception out of corrugated cardboard.

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“I think it was a great experience. It gets you into the mindset of working collaboratively and as an artist,” said Madelyn Anthony, who just graduated from Scituate High.

Her three-member group worked on Mother Nature, a female tree-like figure decked with twisted vines and branch-like hair. She stands in the middle of the installation, “symbolic of the whole,” Anthony said.

“I handled the structural aspects of that and pulled it together for the team,” she said. “It was difficult to work through how to make it stand.”

What Heather Collins, the center’s director of community programs, calls the “piece de resistance” is the waterfall based on a design by Madison Wheeler of Hanson, a junior at Whitman-Hanson High School.


“I have been a big Tim Burton fan since I was younger,” Wheeler said. “I based it on the weird, kind of creepy stuff” that appears in Burton films.

The waterfall attaches to the ceiling and hangs in cardboard strips. Her group wanted to paint it, Wheeler said, “but we were told to embrace the beauty of the cardboard.”

The piece’s embrace includes a frog named Gerald, a butterfly, and other flying creatures. But Wheeler is proudest of the spider web she made by squeezing a hot glue gun. “I couldn’t feel my finger for two days afterwards,” she said.

Cohasset High graduate Caitlin Mavilia said one challenge was “working in groups with kids we never met.”

For its garden archway, her group decided on the form of the falling tree, Mavilia said. “It’s a little abstract, but has natural elements like vines. You can walk right through it.”


Maschio, a printmaking instructor at the art center and “a natural teacher” according to Collins, said the Art Stars were shown how to cut, glue, and fold cardboard. They practiced by making a three-dimensional model, from a blueprint.

“I had a great group,” she said. They just took off.”

Maschio’s role was to “troubleshoot.” When the students ran into a problem making vines that would twist beneath a footbridge, she told them to remove the paper from the cardboard, wet it, and twist.

Exchange student Muz Spanns of Netherlands, studying at Silver Lake, figured out how to reinforce the bridge’s structure so it would be strong. “You could walk on that bridge,” Maschio said.

Collins said the program was created to “do something different with high schoolers, like the intense experience music festivals provide.” She wanted art students to have a chance to work with experts and cooperate in projects.

Among highlights, she said, are a lamp post that illuminates the insects flying around it and the “open” structure of the Mother Nature sculpture that allows you to see the cardboard skeleton inside.

Braintree students Emma Cross and Thomas Falcucci worked with Anthony on Mother Nature. Declan Coyne of Boston College High, Bethany Lamonde of Hingham, and Ally Jones of Milton worked on the “Walkway with Arches and Planters.” Mavilia was joined by Kelsey Long of Hull and Jade Proule of Whitman-Hanson High on the “Decorated Arch with Flowers.” Caroline O’Connor worked on the “Lamp Post” with Dana Bonollo of Norwood and Rebecca Foote of Scituate. Lindsay Zappolo of Scituate and Matthew Leonard of West Bridgewater worked with Wheeler on “Waterfall.”

Printmaker Tony Pilla oversaw it all with Collins. Other advisors included installation artist Sharon Permutter, sculptor Susan Luery, and mixed media artist Dorothy Pilla.

Robert Knox can be reached at