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Without Access To Studios, MassArt Professors (And Students) Get Creative04:01
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College campuses may have shut down, but school continues. And it has forced educators to make do with a lot less. More than their liberal arts colleagues, art instructors face an uphill battle without access to studios or materials — resources their students depend on.

From "chicken challenges" to homemade metal molds, teachers and students at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design have gotten especially creative. Here are some of their inventions.

The Chicken Challenge

A dinosaur with chicken wings, created by Chuck Stigliano. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A dinosaur with chicken wings, created by Chuck Stigliano. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)

When MassArt sculpture and drawing professor Chuck Stigliano found out campus would be closed for the rest of the spring semester due to the coronavirus, he emailed an (optional) assignment to his students. Their task? Make a chicken out of whatever materials they could find, and send a photo of it to the rest of the group. He called it "The Chicken Challenge."

"The real purpose was getting the students to communicate with each other and with me," Stigliano says. "And I knew there was a lot of unease, because I was feeling a lot of unease. And I thought, 'you could sculpt with anything.'"

An embroidered chicken by Mad Beaubien. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
An embroidered chicken by Mad Beaubien. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken sculpture by Sara Micciche. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken sculpture by Sara Micciche. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A wire and soap bubble chicken by Sophia DiLibero. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A wire and soap bubble chicken by Sophia DiLibero. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A carrot chicken by Elliot Papp. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A carrot chicken by Elliot Papp. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)

MassArt sculpture major Ellen Adams was sick in bed with symptoms of COVID-19 when Stigliano issued his challenge. From her bed, she tried to draw a chicken every day, and took delight in her classmates' whimsical creations.

"The humor about it was really great, and it was just a welcome distraction from the chaos that was happening at that time," Adams says.

"Bok Bok" by Ellen Adams. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
"Bok Bok" by Ellen Adams. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)


Tinfoil Molds and Cake

Jason Loik, who teaches mold-making at MassArt, decided it would be easier to demonstrate techniques by making videos. In his first instructional video, he taught his students how to make a mold using tinfoil and bake a cake in it.

"This has really shaken it up," Loik says of teaching during the shutdown. "It has been stressful, but it's also been helpful. I think, you know, sometimes we, as educators, we get stuck in a rut. We go to our comfort zone. And I'd say a bit of that silver lining is, we had to adapt, and we had to adapt fast."

Casting Candy

Marjee Levine, an adjunct professor at MassArt, teaches metal casting — not a process you can easily duplicate in your home. Normally at this point in the semester, her students would be starting their final projects. Instead, she issued them a challenge: find something in your house that will melt, and cast it into a mold.

"It's all about problem-solving, it's all about ingenuity, it's all about working with what you've got," Levine says. "So that's what I'm trying to impress upon the students — and myself, too."

Cast candy earrings using a flour mold by Elexis Ruiz. (Courtesy Marjee Levine)
Cast candy earrings using a flour mold by Elexis Ruiz. (Courtesy Marjee Levine)
A cast plaster manipulated Ken doll head using a playdough mold by Ezra Testa. (Courtesy Marjee Levine)
A cast plaster manipulated Ken doll head using a playdough mold by Ezra Testa. (Courtesy Marjee Levine)

Since then, Levine has actually figured out a way for her students to cast metal at home, by melting a pewter-like material on the stove and casting it into a mold made out of cuttlefish bone. Cuttlefish spines, it turns out, are heat resistant and sold at most pet stores. Levine was able to get the college to ship the supplies to her students.

"It's not something that I normally would incorporate in a semester where we have full access to the shop," she says. "So in some ways, these kids are actually learning more than what they would have if we were at school."

Bonus Chickens

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg" by Sara Micciche. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
"Which came first, the chicken or the egg" by Sara Micciche. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A tiny chicken club made of sculpey by Molly Harrington. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A tiny chicken club made of sculpey by Molly Harrington. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
"Like a chicken with its head cut off" by Mad Beaubien. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
"Like a chicken with its head cut off" by Mad Beaubien. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken made of dog hair by Marley Gainley. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken made of dog hair by Marley Gainley. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken by Melina Illinger. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken by Melina Illinger. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
"Chicken Wire" by Sarah Perry. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
"Chicken Wire" by Sarah Perry. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken made of wood shavings and matches by Sophia DiLibero. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken made of wood shavings and matches by Sophia DiLibero. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken made of aluminum foil and toothpicks by Chuck Stigliano. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken made of aluminum foil and toothpicks by Chuck Stigliano. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken made of crushed red pepper by Chuck Stigliano. (Courtsey Chuck Stigliano)
A chicken made of crushed red pepper by Chuck Stigliano. (Courtsey Chuck Stigliano)
A cat food chicken by Chuck Stigliano. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)
A cat food chicken by Chuck Stigliano. (Courtesy Chuck Stigliano)

This article was originally published on April 16, 2020.

This segment aired on April 16, 2020.

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Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for The ARTery, WBUR's arts and culture team. She covers everything from fine art to television to the inner workings of the Boston music scene.

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