All of the language and art are represented here as submitted by the entrant.
First Place – Solar Recycling Machine by Julian Jaffe | Voyagers’ Community School | Lincroft, NJ
My name is Julian Jaffe and I am a 14 year old boy who loves to build things. When I was first told about the Beautiful Minds Challenge I was very intrigued by the prompt. I thought about several ideas at first, but then one idea stuck in my mind. I explained the idea to my friends and teachers and all of them inspired me to make the idea into a reality.
Although I know a good bit about science and the way things work, I had to do a lot of research during my project. I learned a lot about how recycling facilities work, as well as where the world’s materials actually come from. Although my project was not able to give solid results it did spark several more ideas in my mind.
The concept of turning something useless into something useful for no money or energy is very interesting to experiment with. The reason I think this project is beautiful is simply because it represents human efficiency. The world has many issues and one of them is waste and pollution. Recycling is helping, somewhat, to make several different industries more efficient with materials, but there is still a long way to go in this arena. I think the future is in finding ways to recycle something without the trouble and energy that it takes now. Localizing efforts into smaller loops so that individuals take responsibility for their own waste and, thus, choose better products.
That is what this project represents: the simple ability to make something better for the benefit of others.
Julian_Jaffe-Julian_Jaffe_Beautiful_Minds_final (opens PDF in a new window)
Second Place – Abandonment by Devon Kasper and Jordan Dermody | Easthampton High School | Easthampton, MA
The Beautiful Minds project has helped us to see and understand the ultimate destruction that the world possesses. We sought to see something in our own community that was different, that not every other town in the world holds. We realized our town was special, it was developed through industrial innovation; mills. Looking around our home, Easthampton, we saw how our world has taken a toll on the Hampton Company Mill. As we further investigated a part of our childhood that we never acknowledged the significance of, we discovered the history of our town that appears to be forgotten. Walking through the one mill left in Easthampton to rot, we witnessed the corrosion of time and the selfishness of our town to leave the building to crumble.
We saw broken windows, shattered glass, missing doors, defacement of the walls and reminisce of immature adolescents who left their despicable mark behind. We knew that this building had been destroyed, but not in the ways you might think. No one has taken a bulldozer to it yet, a tornado has not blown through, a fire has not burned the walls, and a blizzard hasn’t made it fall. What has caused the destruction of this building is abandonment. This building was left for time to take its toll, and that is what has happened.
We wanted to take this opportunity to remind the citizens of Easthampton about the one mill we forgot. Since we aren’t capable of completely renovating and reusing the entire building itself, we have chosen to make a memorial for it, using pieces that time pushed to the ground. We have built a bench, and used old bricks from the mill as armrests. We also, transferred a mural of the working Hampton Company Mill onto the seat of the bench. Our hope is that this initiative we have taken will open the eyes of the Easthampton Community and bring us closer to revitalizing this lifeless building.
By building this memorial we have learned that the mills were the center piece of Easthampton. We noticed that every other mill has been reinvented and wanted to look past the fence that was separating the Hampton Company from the community it belongs in. Though the building that was once called the Hampton Company, is unsightly, destroyed and broken, we were able to take pieces of it and make something beautiful, useful and remind the community about the foundation of Easthampton. We hope that people will not only see the aesthetics of our bench, but the time, work and thought that was put into it. The beauty that it holds is in how it was made and how it will be used. We learned that history lies in the most abandoned places. We also learned how to do something we weren’t familiar with, like building a bench, to try and give to back to our community.
Third Place – From the Ashes… by Zach Aubin | Sparhawk High School | Ipswich, MA
When presented with this year’s Beautiful Minds Challenge Prompt, “Create something out of destruction. Share what you learn.” my thoughts immediately went to the loss of my grandfather when I was in second grade. The year was a difficult one for me; I had a very close relationship with my grandfather, who I called Gaga. He was my perfect grandfather, role model, guardian, leader, and champion. He was someone who made me feel safe, loved and was an example of the type man I wanted to become.
I can think of no greater destruction than death, it is the final dissemblance of life. My grandfather sadly died from Pancreatic cancer, a process that destructive and devastating. I watched this disease slowly destroy the landscape that was his life.
I was then faced with the quandary of how to take this experience of the loss of my grandfather and create something new, profound and beautiful from it. My grandfather had been cremated after his death, as he wished, and I had some of his ashes. I began practicing glassblowing as a hobby two years ago. Glassblowing is a hobby I enjoy, additionally I find it very soothing and meditative and it also seems to harmonize one with the universe. Perhaps it is the working with fire and intense heat from which you can create these beautiful objects that remind me of what the first moments of the universe must have been like, from being molten and formless, to becoming form and beauty.
One night while thinking about this prompt, I realized that it could be possible to utilize my glassblowing skills in creating something beautiful out of this destruction that impacted my life so intensely. Upon further thought and contemplation while working in the glass studio on paperweights and adding color to them. I thought that perhaps I could use my grandfather’s ashes as I do color in the creation of paperweights.
As these ideas began to formulate, I began to research online. I then began to ask at the glass studio for advise on this concept from the various glass teachers, after which I worked on a concept without the use of ash. Once I had developed a working idea, I set up time to return to the studio for another daylong session, to begin the work with my grandfather’s ashes.
In the pieces I created with my grandfather’s ashes I used amber, the actual ancient resin, in one and blue glass in the other. I chose amber to illustrate and connect my grandfather to all history from the earliest of times and the blue to represent his love of the ocean and boating.
I created four paperweights in this process. I even used what was considered discarded parts of the process that would have been destroyed and thrown into recycling.
Through this Beautiful Minds Prompt there was crystallization in my mind of this well loved hobby of glassblowing and how to honor my beloved grandfather.
Like the crucible that the glass is heated to such high temperatures in and melted, loss of my grandfather was a crucible of my very being. The loss of one who we love so greatly, who has such impact on one’s life is a severe test of the very fiber of our existence no matter what our age. As a physical crucible in the glassblowers studio is a place where different elements interact to produce molten glass that allows the glassblower to create new and beautiful works, loss too can be the crucible of the soul, testing who we are, allowing us to create life the glassblower with glass, who we are to become through this trial.
The Beautiful Minds Challenge Prompt inspired a path upon which I could remember and honor a man who impacted my life so greatly. The act of creation also became an act of ritual and remembrance, for this reason these paperweights carry a beauty so elemental that they are like the fire from which they were forged.
Fourth Place – Finding Hope in Destruction by Henry Robinson | Home School | North Attleboro, MA
In response to the prompt “create something from destruction, share what you learn,” I created a ‘zine of found poetry. The introduction in the ‘zine explains my “something beautiful,” my “creation from destruction.” My project is beautiful because it seeks to find hope in what might seem hopeless. At times, the world seems so irreparable. However hope can be found, and often in unlikely places and in unlikely ways, such as in destruction. The death of an animal spawns new life. It supports fungus, which then decomposes the corpse and eventually rots away itself. From the rotten remains of fungus and animal alike, a fertile soil is created, from which plants can grow and thrive. From these plants, many animals can find sustenance and thrive themselves, and then someday die and continue the cycle. Hope is what motivates us from our beds in the morning. It is what propels us through life until our deaths, striving to make a difference and attempting to leave behind something positive. Hope births beauty, because hope helps us make change and find beauty even in destruction. My ‘zine is my quest to create a fertile soil from which hope may sprout.
Henry_Robinson-FindingHopeInDestructionHenryRobinson (opens PDF in a new window)
Fifth Place – Junkful by Yeonsoo Koo | Cinco Ranch High School | Katy, TX
This piece was created using a method called Encaustics. I started out with a flat piece of wooden board. First, I added random items, such as pencils, papers, wrapping papers, strings, and the remnants of sharpened pencils (found inside pencil sharpeners). Then, I put Gesso and Mod Podge all over the items. I mixed them well and let everything dry for a day.
After the surface was dry, I went over it with hot wax. Using a large flat brush, I applied wax as if I am applying wall paint, trying to make it smooth. Then, I took a dryer specially designed for using on artwork (it is hotter than usual hair dryers), and removed excess wax to make the surface even thinner and smoother.
I took shellac, usually used to polish wood surfaces, and covered the surface. I took a blowtorch next, and burned the shellac to create the effect that I wanted. The shellac would catch on fire and burn away, and I blew on some of the flames to control how much I wanted to burn the shellac (This was my favorite part! It is stress relieving to watch the shellac melt in). Lastly, I let the shellac dry for a few days so it is not sticky anymore.
When I first saw the prompt, I thought about what can be destructive. The first thing that came to my mind was fire. Only a few things are fire-proof; the flame can gulp down houses, towns and even forests in minutes. However, this destructive force, when controlled, is the source of energy and beauty. I used fire to transform and finalize my creation. Before undergoing the step of blow-torching the shellac, everyone, including myself, thought my art work was junk. It looked like trash that was let alone for a few weeks; I could almost smell it decomposing. However, the slight touch of fire changed everything. At the beautiful copper and blue shades that the flame engraved, all of my peers and even my art teacher were amazed. It seems scary to put anything on fire, for it might be completely destroyed, but the risk is worth the transformation. So if something looks bad, just burn it! (But first, cover it with shellac!)
Another thought that created this piece was using trash and useless objects to create the texture. These items have already undergone destruction; now they can be broken, burned and transformed into art work. The objects were things that would have been thrown away—they were about to become real trash. But now, they became part of a junk that I choose to call art. I learned that everything has a use, however worthless it might seem. It is up to the artist to kill or save.
Sixth Place – Breaking Boundaries by Chenjie Zhao | Christ’s Church Episcopal School | Greer, SC
Autumn came quickly. The soft footsteps of autumn escaped me: the hurried sunset, the radiant, burnt orange persimmon trees. But when the winged newcomers of our house with emerald green tunics and clever eyes started to prepare their winter clothes, I finally noticed.
My two little brothers shrieked with surprise when a carpet of feathers adorned the wooden floor around the two cuddly parakeets. These carefree little creatures began to preen their new feathers. The unexpected leads me to see the beauty of the ordinary. Just as the leaves fall from the trees, the two little birds part with their summer clothes.
I imagine a cage with three wire birds. The cage gives structure and safety to the little birds’ two-dimensional existence. The three birds have lived a flat life, and grown in the dimensions available to them. Two of the birds remain at the bottom of the cage while the third bird, bold and reckless, breaks out of the lines developing colorful new feathers with every moment which will enable it to explore vast new space.
I aim to use my work of art to encourage people, including myself, to trust life, and open up to its infinite rungs and dimensions in the cycles of renewal. The thin linearity of wires can be transcended by, and taken up into the fullness of a larger reality. After all, we are made of wires too – just smaller (nano) wires, and bigger hopes.