The visual arts are alive and thriving at Sanford. With in-person classes for all grade levels this year, Sanford has invited visiting artists to share their work with students.
Local artist Bri Brant was the first to visit Sanford’s Middle School this fall for a special art elective named Recycled, Repurposed, Reseen. “You don’t always have to start with fresh, new materials,” explains Nina Silverman-Weeks, Art Teacher in the Middle School. “I designed this class last summer to help make our students more aware of sustainable art practices and how to look at potential materials for making art.”
Trained in Industrial Design at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, Bri Brant creates heirloom quality bags and accessories crafted with minimal waste. She works with the finest natural materials including vegetable tanned leather, organic linen, locally milled waxed canvas, and pure copper to build functional art. After apprenticing with local artists, she founded her own company
“Our goal is to bring in living artists who are working in their field to show options for a career path in the arts beyond the stereotype of artists who paint, draw, or sculpt,” notes Silverman-Weeks. She came to know Brant through her children who she has taught at Sanford. “She offered us leather scraps to use in art classes. I began following her on Instagram and have seen her work at craft shows, her shops, and at Winterthur.
“When I discovered Bri Brant uses everything, especially when she works with leather, I wanted to work with her to bring awareness to the students about waste and to exercise their problem-solving skills. Planning a two-part class was a perfect way for her to demonstrate her craft and to talk about her unconventional business model.”
Brant first she came in for a share and tell. “We had her IG account open, her website up on the board, and she set up a display highlighting her bags and the patterns (made from old recycled cardboard),” notes Silverman-Weeks. “Then she demonstrated her techniques with leather scraps and hand tools.”
“Her business plan is very unconventional, actually the opposite of what they teach you in business school,” says Silverman-Weeks, “She makes the pieces based on the materials and what makes sense to her. She creates for herself because she loves it and really doesn’t have to advertise. Somebody will always buy her pieces. She works in a tiny studio in her home and doesn’t want to expand.”
In the second class, students tried leatherworking: getting a feel for using the tools and practicing with leather. Projects were fluid, and Brant talked about the importance of trial and error. They liked it so much, they asked if they could continue for a few more sessions.
“It inspired them to create,” Silverman-Weeks recalls. “They were all engaged and busy trying a variety of techniques demonstrated by Bri. What impressed me most: they taught and helped each other to problem solve. Because this was a new art form for me, I learned alongside the students.”
At the end of the class all pieces were returned to the scrap box for later use and the waste cans were empty.
What’s next? “We will be exploring a unit on ‘wearable art’ using discarded and broken jewelry bits, fabrics, and other atypical items for turning ‘trash’ into works of art. We’ll do other kinds of upcycling and reusing both found and non-traditional objects,” explains Silverman-Weeks.
“We give students opportunities to explore their creativity and subjects outside of the traditional academic program — and allow them to learn in different modalities. We can spark their individual interests, and it’s here that Sanford’s No Talent Lies Latent motto comes to life. Many of our students have continued to explore art in the Upper School and in college.”
Brant reflected on the class in an email about Silverman-Weeks, “She teaches them real world skills that they will always use—like using hand tools—as well as the big picture lessons like how to problem solve when you make a mistake by being creative and resilient.
“This class touches my core. I have been an advocate for reusing and repurposing objects my entire life for the sake of Mother Earth. My graduate thesis explored how to reassign the purpose of an object to become something new and unique. It is my hope that I have made a small contribution and that our children will take care of our precious planet.”