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Teens Fashion Odds and Ends Into a Parade of 'Wearable Art'

January 16, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

There is a giant whale in one corner of the room. An oversize human head in the other. And, strewn all around, cubes of hot-pink Jell-O the size of large-screen TVs.

Don't panic -- it's not a science experiment gone terribly wrong. Just Ventura High School's annual "wearable art" fashion show.

Working with the theme, "Stepping Into Fantasy: A Celebration of the Imagination," about 170 of Patti Post's art students have created 55 larger-than-life puppets, body casts and colorful outfits that they will parade around campus at noon today.

At 7:30 p.m., the students will put on a longer show for the community in the school's gym, free of charge.

For the last eight weeks -- in class, after school and on weekends -- small groups of students have been building the pieces, which began with sketches done in class.

By Tuesday, things were getting a little hectic.

"I'm really hoping to finish," said 17-year-old Cyrus Castella, frantically gluing crumpled paper to the foot of a large red sea serpent he is building with Sean Foster, 17. They rigged a backpack under the creature's body to make it "wearable."

"It's really fun for an art class," Cyrus said. "Instead of just sitting in a room and painting, this is more hands-on."

Post, who has been teaching art for more than three decades, came up with the idea six years ago after seeing a fashion show in Los Angeles in which a designer used wrapping paper to create flowing ball gowns.

That same year, Post gave her students an assignment to make a piece of art out of a brown paper grocery bag. When one of the girls in her class produced a pleated skirt, the idea clicked.

"It's such a wonderful way for them to learn," she said. "They have these wild imaginations, and they get to see them actually manifested."

An alley behind Post's classroom has become the students' studio. On Tuesday, several groups put the finishing touches on their pieces and practiced walking with them, as they will in the parade.

They have used whatever materials they could find in Post's storage room, including but not limited to: shredded tickets from the Ventura County Fair, cardboard, paper, bubble-wrap, PVC pipe, chicken wire and cheap paint.

August Latimer-Dorney, 17, got a local Albertsons to donate the hot-pink cellophane wrap he used to create his Jell-O cubes, which he will pile into a giant bowl -- complete with giant spoon.

For many, the art project doubled as a physics lesson.

Shawn Conaway, 16, struggled under the weight of his group's project -- a 20-foot-tall, Mardi Gras-style puppet -- as he tried to hoist it on his back. The creation was top-heavy, the students quickly discovered, so they had to add a pole in the back for support.

"Oh my gosh, she's huge!" exclaimed senior Nathan Beale, 17.

A group of girls nearby worked on a different problem. Each grasping one pole attached to a large, sparkly mermaid, they had to figure out how to walk in sync with each other so they didn't tear her in half. Post's husband, Tom, was on hand to help.

Watching the lovely sea creature bob from side to side, he marveled at what his wife's students accomplished this year.

"Are we out of our minds, or what?" he joked.

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