Rockport is not the first coastal town to come to mind these days in regards to fishing, but fish are being gathered there nonetheless. Specifically, fish are filling shelves and cupboards and tabletops and imaginations at Camden-Rockport Elementary School, thanks to a school-year-long art project sponsored by Youth Arts.

Youth Arts is a private, nonprofit, all-volunteer organization that has provided arts enrichment in the schools of Camden and Rockport for more than 30 years via arts residencies and performances. An annual art and services auction serves as a major fundraiser for Youth Arts; a couple of years ago, those involved began to think about making the group’s name and work more closely linked by adding some student art to work donated by professional artists. The problem with the idea was that only some students would be involved, and they likely would rather hold onto their creations. Considering that problem led to the project that is producing some 400 to 500 fishy art works at Camden-Rockport Elementary School.

“So instead of having a Youth Arts residency in the school this year, we’re doing this,” said Andrea Pierce, a longtime volunteer supporting arts in her local schools.

“This” is what is filling so much space at the school off Route 90, a school-wide “FishES” project that soon will result in a colorful, moving sculpture that will hang for years to come from the ceiling of the two-story main entryway of the elementary school (hence the “ES”).

The kinetic sculpture has several components, each with a team of Youth Arts and community volunteers to bring it about, and almost all the components are ready for assembly at this point. A Waves Team produced a design concept and means of executing large wave-like structures that already hang, albeit temporarily, in the space. Team member Charles Duvall and his Duvall Designs of Rockport created the lightweight sculptural shapes using bars of bent aluminum. Each “wave” will be hung with stainless steel-suspended fish created by the school’s classes, as well as faculty members and other staff.

A Fish Team developed the wood-core fish shapes that would serve as individual canvases and explored the different ways they could be altered and painted and decorated. Community based artists were assigned to each of the school’s classes, and each class took a different approach to its fish, inspired by an artist or artistic movement. The latter aspect tied in with the Education Team’s work, which also involved working marine biology lessons into the mix.

In late October, “FishES” was introduced to the students via an assembly celebration and the task of transforming hundreds of plain wooden fish shapes into works of art began. Principal Jan Staples set aside one of the school’s classrooms to house the Build-a-Fish Workshop, which has been hosting students regularly ever since. The final group of students, the kindergarten students, took over the workshop last week, and various staff members who wish to be part of “FishES” are putting in some time now.

Each class’s fish are from a different part of the color palette and decorated in a different way using paint, glass beads, wire and more. The first group to hit the workshop was the school’s young multiage classes, which include certain students of K-2 age. They worked with Kathie Gass, painting their fish orange and then looking to the work of Vinalhaven’s Robert Indiana for inspiration.

First-graders worked in yellow with Julie Crane, using Cushing’s late Bernard “Blackie” Langlais as inspiration. Langlais often combined found metal materials with wood and this turned out to be a good fit for this class.

“There are a lot of boys in the first grade this year, so all that pounding was perfect,” said Youth Arts volunteer Lana Arau.

Susan Beebe, an art teacher at Rockland’s Watershed School, worked with the second-graders. Their green fish, decorated with sequins and rhinestones, came purely from their own creative impulses.

The third-graders, working in blue with Cate Lamb, looked to glass artist Dale Chihuly for ideas. They concentrated on layering, trying for the effect of algae and sea stars as seen reflected through water.

The fourth-graders’ fish were painted violet and had beaded fins. Ilene Weintraub taught them about pointillism and brought the lesson home by asking, “Do you really have as many dots as you think you can?”

Lisa Morgan’s work with the kindergarten students, who painted their fish red, focused on the work of children’s author/illustrator Eric Carle and used stamping techniques as well as fin embellishments.

As each child finishes his or her fish, a photo is taken so the art can go home in some sense. By the end of the school year — and maybe even by the end of April — the fish will be hanging, offering undulating waves of color and texture that can be enjoyed from a number of vantage points. The months-long process has been recorded in a number of ways, including a time-lapse video that is sure to be the hit of the celebration that will mark the official debut of “FishES.” When that will be depends on how things go in the next few weeks, but the Build-a-Fish Workshop is close to building its last fish.

Funding and materials for the Youth Arts project have come from a variety of community and statewide sources, and the group always welcomes donations. The annual benefit auction, A Celebration of the Arts, is set for Saturday, May 22 at the Point Lookout Conference Center in Lincolnville. Tickets to the gala event are $40 and may be obtained by calling Christine Nathan at 236-3634. For more information about Youth Arts, visit To keep up with “FishES,” visit the project’s Youth Arts FishES Facebook page.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to