Student’s alternative materials course turns trash into treasure

The work of students in Professor Lorraine Glessner’s Alternative Materials class will be on display in the Stella Elkins Gallery at Tyler until Oct. 31.

A student in Professor Lorraine Glessner’s Alternative Materials course at Tyler School of Art sees a lot more value in a piece of scrap metal than the average city dweller.

That’s because the class is focused on creating artwork using materials that are seen as trash, junk or simply unusable to the untrained eye.

On Oct. 23, students in Glessner’s course displayed some of the work they created this semester in the Stella Elkins Gallery at Tyler. In conjunction with Sustainability Week, the exhibit, entitled “Re-threads,” will run until Oct. 31 and is sponsored by Temple’s Office of Sustainability. All of the pieces featured are made entirely of recycled materials.

“This kind of project is how I usually work, and it was fun to be able to look at things in a new way,” Lauren Koch, a senior fibers and materials studies major in the Alternative Materials course, said. “I’ll never look at things around my house the same way again.”

The exhibit hasn’t gone unnoticed among advocates of environmental awareness who are heading Sustainability Week on Main Campus. Students involved in the Office of Sustainability said they believe it is important to show how environmental awareness knows no bounds, regardless of differing majors and career aspirations.

“For Campus Sustainability Week, we like to have a wide range of events so that we can show that sustainability is applicable to all fields,” Katy Ament, a representative of the Office of Sustainability and junior environmental studies major, said. “When you turn something that we typically look at and consider to be waste into art, it forces you to look at it in a different way and consider is this really waste, what we’re throwing away, or can we find another use for it.”

Alternative Materials, which is made up of students of various majors and years, traveled to Joseph Fazzio Inc., a metal and industrial supply shop in Glassboro, N.J. for all of their supplies.

“The students were given a specific, one-word description,” Glessner said. “They then had to find a single material that they could use to fit that word.”

Using scraps of metal, plastic, cloth and various other items they found, each student created two pieces of art, all made of things people typically consider to be garbage.

“I think it’s really important to create something out of nothing,” Julie Hayes, a junior fibers and materials studies major, said. “That’s a big part of my whole concept.”

Though every member of the class was restricted to using materials they found at the supply shop, each student was instructed to generate projects with a unique message in mind.

“My project is based on the issue of the great Pacific Ocean, [and] of trash that gets stuck because of the currents,” said Tarilayefa Nanakumo, a junior double major in fibers and materials studies and painting, drawing and sculpture.

“I was more interested in what was being thrown away, and cigarette butts were a big thing that people throw away a lot,” Lari Bittman, a fifth-year double major in printmaking and fibers and materials studies, said. “The cigarette companies make it so that we want to keep smoking them, but no one really thinks about how many people die from them. I wanted to represent people’s deaths from them every day, with the cigarette butts that people just throw to the side.”

The projects are intended not only to represent unexpected uses of mediums, but also to convey the social commentary the student is making with their art.

No two pieces of art on display are made of the same material or were designed to have the same effect on the viewer.

“I think the fact that a lot of different materials are being used is really cool, and I really like how everything is very textured, like I want to reach out and touch [the art],” Ian Amidon, a senior English major, said. “The fact that they are using different things that are around them and that they don’t have to use any professional materials is cool, too.”

Glessner said the opportunity for students in her Alternative Materials course to display their work is rare, so this exhibit is a product of their cooperation and dedication.

“The students were excellent,” Glessner said. “They chose their spots, they chose the way it was designed, they did everything. They worked well together to do it, so it was sort of like a community project. It really came together.”

Alexa Bricker can be reached at

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