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Students transform cigar boxes into sculpture

Seffner Elementary’s El Lector, an imitation bronze statue representing the men who read to cigar workers in the early 20th century, won Best of Show in the elementary category.

Repurposed Doodad Sculpture Competition

Seffner Elementary’s El Lector, an imitation bronze statue representing the men who read to cigar workers in the early 20th century, won Best of Show in the elementary category.


Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association members sat for a meeting last year when the general manager of Horizon Bay walked in with a large, plastic street globe.

The senior assisted living center had ordered nearly three dozen, but they were far too large for the current light fixtures. The globes couldn't be returned and were likely headed for the trash.

But Jack Wyatt, then the association president, had an idea. Why not see what local kids could do with them?

The oversized globes were delivered to various Hillsborough county public schools, and the Repurposed Doodad Sculpture Competition was born.

Last week, students, parents, educators, and community organizers gathered to celebrate the second annual competition and witness what the students did with this year's repurposed items: 3,000 cigar boxes.

Like last year's street globes, the cigar boxes would have been sent to the garbage bin. Support the Troops Inc. of Wesley Chapel had been filling the boxes with candy and gum to include in care packages to servicemen and servicewomen stationed overseas. The Thompson Cigar Co. had generously donated more boxes than Support the Troops had resources to fill.

So, the excess was shipped to schools, and students were tasked with making treasure from trash.

Because there were thousands more doodads to go around this year, community involvement soared.

"We challenged every public school in Hillsborough County to do a sculpture," Wyatt said. "It's a community effort to bring out our artists."

• • •

Elementary, middle, and high schools took to the challenge readily with 478 students and 47 teachers from 50 schools participating, often meeting after class hours to work on their creations.

Patricia Yanulis, art teacher at Seffner Elementary, began the Monday Masterpiece Art Club with her second- through fifth-grade students. The group met after early release for nearly five weeks from 1:30 to 3:15 p.m.

Lilly Verrill, a fifth-grader in the group, proudly explained how she and her classmates learned about the history of Ybor City and came up with the ideas for two sculptures. El Lector, an imitation bronze statue representing the men who read to cigar workers in the early 20th century, won Best of Show in the elementary category.

The group's second piece, Old Cigar Delivery Truck, was built from nine boxes and scrap tobacco leaves. That piece was awarded Best Tampa History Theme in the elementary category.

"It was really an interesting combination of history and art," said Verrill's mother, Denise. "I think they really absorbed it and it held their interest."

Andrea Szikszay won overall first place for her work, Hope Against Genocide. The Robinson High School sophomore repurposed three cigar boxes to represent themes of the Holocaust, of which her great aunt is a survivor.

Standing upright, the three cigar holders resemble the boxcars Nazis used to transport Jews to concentration camps. Opened, each box displays a different picture.

The first, containing more than half a dozen painted foam figures represents fear, Szikszay explained. The second box, filled with skeletal gray figures shows distress. The last box is filled with ashes, made from crushed brick. Out of the ashes rises a small yellow butterfly — a slight glimmer of hope.

"I'm glad it's being displayed because the Holocaust has to be remembered," Szikszay said. "The Holocaust is really deep in my heart. I feel that it's a very sad topic, but it needs to be discussed. If we forget it, it can happen again."

Szikszay's first-place prize includes a scholarship to study at the Art Institute of Tampa Summer Studio Camp. Szikszay says she would like to try her hand at cooking during the weeklong program.

• • •

Eighty of the 97 sculptures have been on display at Horizon Bay at Hyde Park. Today is the final day. The exhibit will now tour the bay area, making stops at the Glazer Children's Museum, Tampa Bay History Center and the Tampa Firefighter's Museum.

When the tour is complete, many of the sculptures will be put up for sale in a silent auction. Wyatt plans to give much of the auction money to Support the Troops, allowing the project to come full circle.

"I know people are amazed at what they see," Wyatt said. "Children and art and imagination and a cigar box? You can get anything out of that. We're excited we are able to do this as a community and provide something that wasn't here."

Sarah Gottlieb can be reached at

Students transform cigar boxes into sculpture 01/17/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 3:49pm]
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