Diana Wilcox approached the dragon-shaped sculpture lurking beside the wooden pulpit at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey. Black fabric trailed from the mouth of its TV-screen head, mounted on a chicken-wire body with a black-hose tail spiraled with green duct tape arched over its back.
"This is Elvis being eaten by a scorpion. I have to get his torso back," she said, locating the rock star's plastic head and upper body and positioning it behind the "dragon's" head.
The Elvis-eater was among three works of art -- technically "transformational art" but dubbed "garbage sculptures" by their makers -- that junior and senior youth-group members created in Redeemer's sanctuary from trash as part of an eco-justice program in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Interim rector and artist the Rev. Melissa Hall created a fourth sculpture of a person fashioned from Mylar balloons doing a handstand atop a pile of discarded clay flowerpots.
"The reason why we decided to do this was to have a visual representation for the congregation of the amount of waste that we produce that doesn't disappear. It goes to dumps, and those dumps are typically located in the poorest neighborhoods," said Wilcox, the church's seminarian, who led the program. "This is about eco-justice."
The Sunday after Earth Day, the church experimented with a screen with scrolling announcements rather than its usual 150 copies of a four- to six-page legal-size paper service bulletin.
Will the changes be permanent? "We can only hope," Wilcox said. Perhaps at least they can cut the bulletin size, she said. "One step at a time."
Redeemer has implemented a "lug-a-mug" initiative, asking members to use mugs that they bring or that the paish bought at a local thrift shop instead of disposable cups at coffee hour. At Sunday's adult forum, the parish environmental committee discussed tools for taking environmental action.
"We'll also be planting a tree and blessing it so that it remains as a reminder to us of our commitment to the environment," Wilcox said in an interview.
For the sculptures, she said, parishioner and ironworker Bud Knudsen "helped the kids kind of figure out what to do with all this junk."
Rachel Goldman, 12, collaborated with two other girls to create a giant light bulb, dubbed "A Bright Idea."
"We thought of things that represent 'green,' and we thought of an economical light bulb," she said. "We were originally going to try to do one of those ones that are, like, spirally, but the structure wouldn't hold."
Goldman explained that the main structure was basically chicken wire filled with plastic material such as bottles and plastic bags, and the outside was bubble wrap. The three girls made the bottom -- sporting their names and the observation "Isn't it shocking" -- by coiling a green garden hose.
Her brother, 16-year-old Matt, worked on the scorpion-dragon, using a discarded metal frame -- they're not sure from what -- chicken wire, a dryer hose and "lots of duct tape."
"We thought we were going to have trouble getting the tail to stand up, but it stayed pretty much by itself," he said.
The unfortunate Elvis came from a telephone. The body of the phone sits above the sculpture, ready to play a bit of "Jailhouse Rock" at the touch of a button. "Elvis," said Wilcox, "apparently has not left the building."
A third, unnamed sculpture featured televisions tuned to static, a computer keyboard, flags, light bulbs and an old clock. "This is sort of an abstract work of art," Wilcox said. "There's Elvis' guitar -- I wondered where that was."
The Goldmans said the art project was fun, but it also carried a deeper message.
"I think it's a great idea to spread awareness of the harm we're doing to the environment by throwing away all this garbage, and I think we did a good job of reusing it in an interesting way," Matt said. "I try to be pretty 'green' now, but I'll definitely try a little harder now."
Said his sister, "I never thought that you could [use] trash to make a sculpture, like art. It just made me realize that everything has another use, too."
Wilcox said that "with things like environmental justice, we look at problems as being insurmountable."
"You don't have to change the world all at once," she said. "One step at a time, one march at a time, one light bulb at a time, one change at a time, and you have global transformation."