MERIDEN — A dozen city fourth-graders got a lesson in sewing and the environmental impact of plastics this week as they helped create a 30-foot whale banner in the driveway of a North Street home.
The students are part of the Our House Meriden program which provides youngsters with free after-school art classes at the former Del Buono family home at 17 North St. The three-year-old non-profit serves students at John Barry and Roger Sherman elementary schools who are chosen by the schools.
On Wednesday, the students were treated to balmy weather and a lesson in the environment with Middletown artist and researcher Katharine Owens, a University of Hartford professor and a National Geographic Explorer. Owens creates life-size banners of marine animals and birds from unrecycled plastic. The students’ job was to sew the plastic pieces to the canvas.
“I’d give it a 100 because it’s so good,” said Dylan Baez Ayala, a John Barry fourth-grader. “I’m so excited and we get to meet an artist. My favorite part is meeting an artist. (Marine animals) deserve a beautiful life instead of being treated poorly by humans.”
Dylan is interested in a possible career as an artist, or perhaps a marine biologist, or maybe a forest ranger, he said. He and the other students in attendance learned about the deadly impact unrecyclable plastic has on marine and bird life.
Owens’ finished a 60-foot sperm whale with the help of the public now on display in Middletown. She started about a year ago and was able to share with students at summer camps in West Hartford and Middletown. The omicron variant of COVID-19 slowed down the public events, but she’s ready to continue with two whales and a 25-foot great white shark.
“Have you ever gone to a park or beach and saw people clean up the plastic?” Owens asked the children. “It’s really important to use the arts to solve big, difficult problems.”
Many of the students had never used a needle before and got help threading and knotting from Our House Meriden teachers Maureen Harry and Gina Ritchie. The warm weather allowed the students to participate outside.
Owens told the students that most plastic packaging is not recyclable and that the equivalent of two garbage trucks dump plastic into the ocean every minute. The plastic samples included Amazon packaging, diaper bags, and other waste.
“It’s bad for animals because they might die if they eat the plastic,” said fourth-grader Teanna Villafane.
Our House Meriden was founded as a 501c3 in 2018 by Catherine Del Buono as a way to use the family home to give back to the children of Meriden. After establishing a board of directors, Our House Meriden began offering art classes in 2019 and opened a community garden on the property for local schoolchildren. The non-profit pays a stipend for its teachers, for all art supplies and to transport the students from the two schools.
Our House Meriden was recently honored with a Community Support Award by the Meriden Board of Education after being nominated by Roger Sherman School.
It hosts classes two days a week and has an online class. Del Buono hopes to bring more visiting artists to add variety to the lessons, she said.
“We’ve gotten some donations and we want to keep bringing the arts to Meriden students,” Del Buono said.
To donate visit www.ourhousemeriden.com.
Reporter Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-317-2255.