Students turn trash to art with a message

Young environmental artists at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center. Photo by Susan Safford
Young environmental artists at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center surround their "debris tree," a mosaic made of trash. (From left) Talia Segal, Tova Katzman, Lila Jasny, Nelly Katzman, Stuart Hersh, Elie Jordi, Max Berlow, Justin Smith, Oren Osnoss, and Maya Segal. Photo by Susan Safford

By Pat Waring - February 23, 2006

Ahh - trees! Lofty and lyrical, stately and green. They are home to birds, provide shade for humans, a feast for the heart and eye.

Uggh - trash! Ugly and smelly, dirty and grim. It is a blemish on the countryside, a blotch on a town street, unappealing and unhealthy for all.

Trees and trash are indeed an unlikely combination at best. What a surprise, then, to find youngsters at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven last week proudly putting the finishing touches on a creative collage all made from trash - their ingenious "debris tree."

It all began when local artist Cindy Kane took on the job of parent advisor for the religious school's Tu B'Shevat project. Ms. Kane, whose children Nelly and Tova Katzman attend the school, wanted to do something different to observe Tu B'Shevat, sometimes known as festival of trees, a holiday which is often marked by planting a tree. The event also marks the start of springtime in Israel, the season of planting.

Teacher Nicole Cabot explained that the Jewish religion traditionally places great value on nature and the environment and emphasizes that people should honor and care for it.

Collecting trash and creating an artistic piece to get the message across was a perfect choice.

The children took to the project at once. They scoured the neighborhood with determination, filling several large garbage bags with trash, just in the blocks near the center. They were appalled at the amount and wastefulness of their haul.

"It felt good... and disgusting," said Stuart Hersh about picking up the debris.

"I found a bottle that still had beer in it," said Talia Segal with distaste.

"It was gross," chimed in another child. "We're learning what trash can do to our environment."

The children said they were surprised to find so much rubbish in the pleasant residential area of Vineyard Haven. "You expect it off-Island," said one of them.

Back in their spacious work area, the youngsters got to work. Justin Smith and Max Berlow had drawn a tree outline on a big sheet of plywood. Then the group began arranging the crushed soda cans, battered cigarette packs, old candy and gum wrappers and other odd cast-offs in the shape of a tree. Along with the predictable debris there were some oddities - a tennis ball, a battered visor cap, a brush for a grill.

The students added their own notes, written in big letters around the tree -"Don't litter - it's not nice!" "Trash is stinky!" "Garbage is bad for the animals." "Trash stinks - literally." "It could be yours."

Ms. Kane, Ms. Cabot, and teacher Marsha Shufrin watched proudly as the youngsters glued on the last few pieces. As they waited for the glue to dry, the students talked about their project, trash, and all they had learned.

For the next few weeks, the unique piece of environmental art will be displayed at the center. Students hope that all who see it will stop, think, and be reminded about the importance of caring for our environment.

Inspired by their experience, the students plan to make trash collecting a regular community service project. So watch for them at work on your street in the months to come. Or better yet, heed their advice: take care of the environment - and do not litter!