TAMPA - Imagine the stuff that gets thrown away - the plastic, bottles and cans. Dream about microbial plants and creatures of the sea - the phytoplankton and zooplankton.
Two sculpture exhibits made of recycled materials - "THINK eARTh"and "Beautiful Beasties" - are on display at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough Community College Ybor Art Gallery, respectively.
Both were created under the guidance of the art team at Community Stepping Stones, a youth art program based in Sulphur Springs. The nonprofit also provides after-school art programs for the Tampa Housing Authority.
THINK eARTh can be seen in the lobby of the Children's Board, at 1002 E. Palm Ave. It will have an official opening on July 16 at a reception welcoming the agency's new director, Kelly Parris, and will be on display through October. Beautiful Beasties opens Monday and runs through July at the Ybor Art Gallery, at the corner of Palm Avenue and 15th Street.
"Little kids when given direction and left to their imaginations can do remarkable things," said Sigrid Tidmore, executive director of Community Stepping Stones.
Tidmore and a team of artists, including Stepping Stones creative art director Brenda Gregory, worked with about 90 children from the Oaks at Riverview in Seminole Heights on THINK eARTh. The Oaks is a mixed-income complex of apartments and town homes managed by the housing authority.
The children, ages 6 to 12, built a 10-foot "Helping Hand Tree" of paper mache and the plastic and aluminum debris of everyday life. The tree's limbs are outstretched arms and hands. Its trunk burrows into the "Meadow of Recent Recordings," made from old vinyl record albums and CDs. In complementary displays, soda cans morph into dragonflies swooping through the air on recycled thread and rain forest creatures - snakes and frogs - crawl from plastic crevices.
"We get compliments on a daily basis," said Kelly Goshorn, who manned the reception desk Wednesday at the Children's Board. "People take pictures. They stop and look at it. It gives you a sense of joy."
A few blocks away "Beautiful Beasties," created by more than a dozen Stepping Stones' teenagers and University of South Florida students, is ready for its opening. The 40-plus works represent the life cycles of nature's smallest aquatic life forms: phytoplankton and zooplankton.
Phytoplankton are one-cell, plant-like organisms that float at the surface of the ocean and are food for whales, dolphins, seabirds and crabs. Half the earth's oxygen is produced by phytoplankton photosynthesis. Most zooplankton are creatures too small to see; some, including jelly fish, are larger.
The innovative sculptured creatures inhabit the Ybor Art Gallery on cilia and flagella as if ready to glide off into their own universe.
One of the critters, "The Sea Slug," is a concoction of plastic Perrier bottles, jar stoppers, cat food dishes, yogurt cups, detergent lids, coffee stirrers and more. It is the logo for the exhibition.
"Actually, this (the Sea Slug) is the mother. ... There are two babies trailing behind," Tidmore said. "And if you think this is grand, we have another piece designed and directed by the same artist, Kathleen McCabe, that is 12 feet tall. It's the same fabulous technique, but this time done as lobster larvae."
The aquatic cohabitants of the gallery are engaged in all of life's cycles, including eating each other and mating, Tidmore said.
On Wednesday, Alonzo Jackson, 17, helped install the sculptures.
"It was a lot of fun. It was an honor to be on the project," he said. "This is a labor of love."
Though adult artists shepherded the projects, Tidmore said, their young counterparts did about 90 percent of the work. For the Beasties exhibit, the creative process began with two field trips and classes taught by USF microbiologist Bridgette Froeschke. The project was funded with a grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
The show's name alludes to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the father of microbiology, who dubbed micro-organisms as "beasties" when he first saw them under his handcrafted microscope in the 17th century.
"I'm really quite pleased with it," Tidmore said. "It's probably the most difficult thing we've tackled."