Blog / Calder and Tiger in Durham, Oh My.


By J Caldwell & Rachel Goodwin
view photos on flickr

What do you think it is?

Those were the initial responses from Mrs. Brown’s kindergarten class at Durham’s Y.E. Smith Elementary Museum School, Home of the Tigers, upon seeing a life-sized metal Tiger on the front lawn. Artist Renee Leverty, with assistance from ­Mike Waller, created and donated an Alexander Calder-inspired wireframe armature of the school’s mascot. “This tiger is a celebration of Calder’s idea of movement and a way to let these young students be invested in the art,” said Leverty. She was inspired by Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy and, with the help of East Durham’s Children’s Initiative (EDCI), sought to bring art to an area where art isn’t easily accessible. EDCI Parent Advocate Cate Elander said, “Our collaboration with Nasher Museum and the artists in the community that are inspired by works such as Calder’s help us tremendously in our cradle to college or career mission for these children.”

Using found materials from the Scrap Exchange students were given wire to hang their favorite objects such as corks, slide projector photos and, to quote an entire first-grade class, “KEYS!” Leverty said, “The [Y.E. Smith] principal [Letisha Judd] hung the first piece of glass. I am incredibly excited that the school is already embracing this as their own.”

The students had a wonderful time interacting with the art and adding their own flair. They certainly had a lot of spontaneous outbursts of enthusiasm as they hung their objects on the tiger that stands proudly at the front walk to the school. Anna told me, “I like his face. He looks really nice. I would name him Leon.” I asked kindergartener Derrick what he liked most about the tiger as more items were being hung. He said, “I like the different shapes and different col–IT’S BLOWING!” A gust of wind caught all of the objects on the armature and they all swayed and came to life like Calder’s mobiles. The students were perhaps most excited by the permanence of their installation. I overheard a student ask Elander if the school planned to take the objects off the sculpture to which she replied, “No, they are here forever,” and he quickly shouted to his friend, “I told you!”

As the event wrapped up, I listened to some wisdom from a student named Daqwan who perfectly summarize the meaning of the piece while keeping an eye on the future. He said to a younger student, “When you get grown, you will remember you put your piece right there on the tail.”

VIDEO: recorded and edited by Rachel Goodwin

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