Co-op, Betsy Ross Students Plastered

Allan Appel Photo“While you’re here, do you need your appendix out?”

“Don’t worry, we won’t touch the pancreas.”

“Sit up any time if you’re having trouble breathing.”

Those words, by turns joking and reassuring, were offered not in a medical facility but the sunny art room at Co-op Arts & Humanities High where seniors and juniors were mentoring middle-schoolers from Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School in producing plaster casts of their own faces.

It was “Art in Action,” the newest edition of the Shubert Theater-funded community outreach program that connects local students with art professionals appearing in Shubert shows and often based on themes in those shows.

Last year, the program spawned a group sculpture inspired by themes in Les Miserables, when that show appeared at the Shubert.

This year Kirsten Sabia and about a dozen aspiring artists are being mentored by more advanced aspiring artists, the seniors and juniors,  in Chris Cozzi’s (pictured) visual arts class at Co-op Thursday morning.

They made masks to be mounted and later collaged reflecting their dreams in the spirit of Once, the musical appearing at the Shubert Feb. 26 through March 2.

The kids don’t have any problem with their dreams, or with collage, but making plaster masks of their own faces from life was a new experience even for their Betsy Ross’s art teacher Maura Galante.

“I haven’t done this since college,” said Galante

So she brought herself and her class for mentoring to Chris Cozzi, himself a sculptor who has been doing the masks with students for 15 years, five at Co-op and ten before that as the art teacher at Conte/West Hills.

Among the first volunteers up was Kirsten. She donned a smock and pink shower cap and then lay down beneath a bright light under the ministrations of Cozzi and two of his students, junior Mia Elliott and senior Najah Josie.

They first rubbed Kirsten’s face with vaseline. Then they created a kind of wimple-shape frame with troughs at the bottom around Kirsten’s face. The aim was to catch the alginate if if slides off her features. That’s a kind of salt that mixes with water to create a gum that will pick up the details of Kirsten’s physignomy.

Using an accent that sounded half Strangelovian and half Frankensteinian, Cozzi said, “Mediatate, relax, think of Cape Cod.”

As he applied the alginate, he called out to Najah, “I need the plaster, go, go go.”

She reached for the plaster strips, which he then applied to the alginate. There was a short window of time before it all began to run and to dry up.

In the meantime, Mia stood by with a small sculptor’s wooden tool. “I’m the nostril cleaner,” she said.

Several times during the procedure, Mia cleaned out the alginate from running into Kirsten’s nostrils; that was her only path to breathe.

“Sit up any time you’re having breathing problems,” Cozzi said.

But she wasn’t. Kirsten seemed to be quite enjoying herself. She gave a thumbs several times to Najah and Mia’s inquiries.

All Kirsten had said before she went “under” was that it seemed so bright; that was from the light shining brightly inches from her face.

Twelve minutes later, when the alginate and plaster mask was removed, Kirsten appeared momentarily startled, as if from sleep. To the question someone asked, “Did Kirsten live?”

The answer was very much so.

As she cleaned up, Cozzi and his students took the mold, the negative image of Kirsten’s face, and filled it with a kind of gypsum cement. It will sit two hours and then when it’s dry the alginate/plaster will be pried away, and a “mask” of Kirsten’s face will have been created.

She’ll take that, mount it on the board she has created with her chosen design and she will decorate all that with images of her dream.

She chose a cupcake design for the board and background because she is the official cupcake provider for class events.

As to career beyond that, the Wallingford middle-schooler said, “I’d think I’d like to be an art teacher.”

“Next up,” called out Mr. Cozzi. That would be West Havener Brianna Jacobson (pictured).

The Betsy Ross kids and their Co-Op mentors will meet one more time as the all the students work on their masks. The finished sculptures will be displayed at the Shubert on Feb. 26, the opening night of Once.

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