Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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In one of the Design Camp sections students work on textiles while seeking inspiration from different types of music. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
An annual, five-day design camp at the University of Minnesota puts teenagers in close contact with design experts to create one-of-a-kind objects ranging from water fountains to clothing.

St. Paul, Minn. — With the voice of Maria Callas wafting over them, more than a dozen girls slump quietly over sketchbooks waiting for inspiration. Their instructions are to somehow translate opera into an embellishment for a fabric design. Marissa Bonnie of Eden Prairie peers past her spiky bangs and begins embroidering. The cloth she's working on already has images of a stylish human heart, an abstract rib cage and a fish--all designs that came from previous days listening to different kinds of music.

"It can make you feel a certain way and the way you feel affects the way you do your art, at least for me personally," Bonnie said. "If you have more upbeat, you want to do something more colorful and just out there. When we're listening opera it it's more dramatic, more emotional, you want to do something more personal." This is Bonnie's second year at design camp. She said she enjoys the way the instructors don't limit expression and creativity.

One of the instructors, Robin Richman, said she wants to spark different creative urges by varying the textures and tempos of the music the students listen to.

"Our jazz day was better than our hip-hop day. Our jazz day we had them do a drawing exercise where you don't take the point of the pencil off the paper and you have to end it as close as you can to where it started," Richman said. "That movement to the jazz--I don't know if we were listening to Coltrane, I think we were listening to Alice Coltrane--very avant garde for them. And they got into it. And everyone did these incredible minimal shapes."

Richman is a well known clothing designer with a boutique in Chicago. Her class starts with one 20-yard piece of fabric. After a day the students cut out an apron from the fabric that they then work on individually for the remainder of the camp.

Not all projects at the camp involve textiles. Others include creating typefaces from naturally-occuring designs and building a contraption that flings water balloons at a target.

In one classroom students have two constraints on their artistic vision. They're to create a type of vintage-style clothing that has a hidden function--a special pocket or a cosmetic mirror. Thirteen-year-old Alex Olevitch of St. Louis Park remembered being thirsty while playing in an orchestra concert and found inspiration for a new kind of necktie.

"Inside it is a pouch that holds water and a straw comes up--or a tube comes up--just below your chin and you can reach down to drink it," Olevich said.

Fashion is not always the first consideration. Instructor Joy Teiken, who designs under the name JoyNoelle in Minneapolis, says she wants the 13- to 17-year-old students to apply bold creativity within a structured design.

"She's doing a jacket that has really long sleeves so in the winter you can push a button and around the hands it will warm up so you don't have to wear gloves. It's sleeves so it covers that and if it gets cold you can turn on the heater," Teiken said.

Some of the projects draw more on whimsy than function. Sixteen-year-old Katty Rowenhorst is working to put a bubble machine in the poofy bustle common in dresses from the 19th century.

"I'm going to rig it up so bubbles flow out of the back of the dress," Rowenhorst says.

Where did this inspiration come from?

"I don't know. I just thought of it. I like bubbles and I want them flowing out of me, I guess.

The campers' first chance to make it big comes at the end of the week when a jury reviews all the projects.

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