What do you do when you find out that the chain link fence surrounding your construction site must, by city ordinance, be covered? If you’re Andrea Keller, co-founder of Berry/Keller Architects, you turn the eyesore into art.
Keller, an architect and designer who was recently a finalist on Bravo’s reality show Top Design, encountered the problem while working on the expansion of New Roads School, a project that includes the 110,000-square-foot Herb Alpert Educational Village.
“I looked at [the fence] and saw that it looked like a needle point image,” says Keller, who claims to be “obsessed” with crafting.
Keller’s idea was to turn the fence into a wall of portraits using the latch hook technique, where materials are looped and knotted through the canvas, commonly used by rug makers.
“I did a quick example of it and tied all of the rags on it and showed it to the City of Santa Monica.”
Keller’s proposal not only met approval from the City, but received glowing support from New Roads’ administrators.
“I thought it was extraordinary,” says David Bryan, New Roads’ Head of School, who found the project to be a perfect fit with the school’s decision to name classrooms after people instead of assigning numbers.
Bryan helped select the subjects of the school’s cloth mural. Human rights activists Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were obvious choices for a school that, per its mission statement, champions “personal, social, political, and moral understanding.” Also featured in the project are famed dancer and “friend” of New Roads Gregory Hines, musician, artist, and inventor Laurie Anderson, and writer and activist Arundhati Roy.
“It is a school, so the idea of being surround by and reminded of extraordinary people is important,” says Bryan.
But it isn’t just the faces of the art piece that is meant to inspire students. Keller will be assembling the piece, which will feature fabric donated by fashion company Bebe, with a team of 50 students on March 14. Keller will be documenting the daylong event with stop motion photography.
“The fence thing, all this needlepoint, is so well-suited for digital media because it’s all pixels,” says Keller. “People think crafts are really small, but I like the fact that it’s a huge digital file. It makes crafts very physical.”
This certainly isn’t your standard classroom-based craft. The project will require roughly 13,000 rags that must be precisely placed within the grid.
“If one is in the wrong spot, you’ll know,” Keller adds.
The endeavor falls in line with New Roads’ arts-heavy curriculum.
“New Roads has a strong value for arts as well as academic subjects, and this is a great opportunity to send the message that artistry and creativity need not only be in a museum,” says Bryan. “Also, New Roads always wants to show kids that one can find ways to do a lot with a little, so what a great idea that one could make beautiful art with [a] fence and donated fabrics.”
And, when one really thinks about the fence, it functions as more than simply a student-produced art project or a creative way to meet a city regulation.
Says Bryan, “We try to send the message that when people work together with a common purpose great things can be accomplished.”