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Mask project helps students tap into their wild side

In a week or so, the masks Parkview Elementary School fifth graders are working on might evoke images of fearsome jungle creatures. For the moment, though, they mostly just look like headbands salvaged from a grocery store's recycling pile.

The students were in the early stages Monday of constructing their masks out of cardboard. The project, part of a residency funded by an ArtStart grant, brought in artist Cecilia Schiller, who has done work with Heart of the Beast puppet theater. She will spend four days helping the students turn bits of cloth, cardboard and fire hose into African masks that will feature the likenesses of animals.

Students did the first part of the project Monday, building a foundation out of a cloth headband and a halo of cardboard. They also started sketching out ideas for their animals.

At their tables in Melanie Banta's art room, students drew snakes, lions and other creatures that came from stories they read about Africa.

Schiller is scheduled to return April 19, 23 and 26. When the project is finished, students will have a chance to wear their creations in a parade at the ArtStart Children's Eco Arts Festival at Harriet Island. The school will provide a bus to transport students who want to attend.

Banta said the mask project appealed to her because of her own connections with Africa. She visited Tanzania six years ago to do mission work, and she plans to go back once the school year is over.

"I've talked to them a lot about Africa already this year," Banta said.

Before they started work on their masks students spent time in their home classrooms learning about the continent and its culture. They also learned about water conservation.