Papier-mâché creates teamwork in new ways

Published 10:36 am Monday, July 2, 2018

Art is often a solitary occupation. One person pouring over a painting or picture or poem for long periods on their own.

But one Stanly teacher believes it should be as much a group exploration as a personal one.

“Because none of us ever do things on our own,” said Stacy Bottoms, an art teacher at West Stanly Middle School.

So as each school year ends, he challenges his seventh and eighth graders to create artwork together. Usually out of papier-mâché — a form of sculpture that uses a water and glue mixture to bind strips of newsprint to a frame or mold.

“It’s not easy, so it takes everybody,” Bottoms said.

Split up into groups of 4-6, he puts someone with good leadership or communication skills in each group — not unlike an employer might do in a work space.

“Too often we try to separate (the arts) from the practical when really they go hand in hand,” Bottoms said.

For instance, the first thing making art requires is thinking through the final product. What do students want to make exactly? Why?

Sometimes they find the solution in a common interest, Bottoms noted. One group of eighth graders this year decided to make a deer since many of them go deer hunting.

Another might come from something they find inspiring. One group wanted to show its support for law enforcement officers so they decided to make a police badge.

After that, it’s a matter of figuring out not only how to work the papier-mâché, but also how

to work with each other. Who is going to do what, or how one person can help another.

In the end, it all proves a lot noisier and more complicated than most people picture an art project to be. But Bottoms says it’s worth it.

“If they didn’t know each other before, they really do after this,” Bottoms said.

And the papier-mâché pieces always turn out stunning, too. From watermelons, to Coca-Cola cans, to Mad Hatter hats, they’re as creative as anything Bottoms could come up with, he said.

These are some of the papier-mâché creation students made this year.

Art teacher Stacy Bottoms joined students in their project by making the Star-Wars themed helmet on the left. One of his groups also made the Viking helmet pictured on the right.

In fact, while the projects were all on display this year, someone offered to buy the police badge students made.

“The group was so amazed by that,” Bottoms said. “That someone would want to buy their artwork.”

As summer continues, he hopes students remember to spend some of that free time creating with others.

“We can all use people who keep us creative,” Bottoms said.

Contact Shannon Beamon at 704-982-0816 or