Clyde Gaw works on the mastodon, which is roughly the same size as the creatures that roamed Indiana more than 13,000 years ago. Submitted photo
Clyde Gaw works on the mastodon, which is roughly the same size as the creatures that roamed Indiana more than 13,000 years ago. Submitted photo

NEW PALESTINE — His name is Fred Jr., named after the massive American mastodon whose 13,500-year-old skeleton is on display at the Indiana State Museum.

Fred Jr. stands over 9 tall and is nearly 20 feet long, but he’s made out of remnants of cardboard boxes held together by homemade glue, making him considerably lighter than the 9-foot-tall Fred, who weighed an estimated 6,000 pounds when he walked the Earth. His skeleton was found in 1998 during an excavation near Fort Wayne.

Fred Jr. is the creation of two Southern Hancock art teachers who made him as part of the Cardboard Engineering Experience interactive learning exhibition at the Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St., Indianapolis.

Clyde Gaw, and Clark Fralick like to think unconventionally. For years they’ve encouraged students to create whatever their minds can imagine — a holistic art approach.

Now the two have taken their nearly 60 years of art education experience and put it to good use through the project at the Indiana State Museum, where they’ve been artists in residence since the fall.

Their creations will be on display for a few more weeks inside an interactive 3,000-square-foot play space stocked with cardboard boxes of all sizes, and other art materials to encourage those visiting to create.

“The thing about cardboard is it’s a very versatile medium,” Gaw said. “You can cut it and bend it and if you have a stick of cardboard, you can use it like a line to create anything.”

The Fred Jr. mastodon is just one of several creations the artists have on display at the Cardboard Engineering Experience, which began in September and runs through May. The two were asked to be part of the current interactive project by Bethany Thomas, vice president of programs and education engagement.

Thomas met the teachers after seeing one of the monster cardboard marble runs they created during a Global Cardboard challenge and thought their work would be ideal for the interactive section of the museum.

“As soon as I found out we were doing the Cardboard Engineering Experience, I knew I had to reach out to them, and they’ve been absolutely fantastic,” Thomas said.

Thomas asked the two teachers in September to stop by whenever they had a chance and start creating. Their first work of art was a giant cardboard pinball machine.

Then they made the 12-foot marble run they called “the beast” in December. Fralick even created a string pull to launch the marble, but so many kids and parents used it, the string wore out and they had to go back in and alter the project so people could still use it.

In January, the teachers decided they wanted to make a statement with their work, make something to really get the kids talking and wanting to make things, too.

Gaw has always been interested in dinosaurs, he said, so he made a tiny one, a brontosaurus out of cardboard strips. The project gave them the idea to go bigger, and they eventually settled on making a mastodon, inspired by Fred, as their statement piece.

“It’s the same size mastodons were when they were alive,” Gaw said.

When they started making Fred Jr., back in January, Gaw was certain they could finish the project in a few days, Fralick said with a laugh. But, like true artists, they wanted to make something authentic, so they decided to start from scratch and give it as much time as they could.

The two even made their own glue recipe. Gaw calls it a “medieval book binding glue,” of sugar, flour, water and oil.

After it’s boiled and cooled, the ingredients become a sticky paste base, which they have used to help build the frame — the spine and the hips — of the mastodon, giving Fred Jr., stability, Fralick said.

The thing they like most about the mastodon is that it’s their creation, something they made without an instruction manual. It’s the way they always encourage students to create.

“We preach experimentation and creativity, and that’s what we’re practicing,” Gaw said “We feel like it’s a one-of-a-kind creation.”

Thomas has heard nothing but positive feedback from the Cardboard Engineering Experience, she said, thanks in part to the work the teachers have done, and because cardboard is an art medium easy to work with.

“Everybody has boxes at home,” Thomas said.

Just like his namesake, Fred Jr. has found a permanent home at the museum. He’ll more than likely be placed into the creativity studio or in the nearby walkway, Thomas said.

Fred is on display in the natural history galleries and greets visitors when they first enter the museum.

Having their work on display and associated with a piece of history has been a rewarding endeavor.

“It’s been a really cool to build it there and have people watch us make it,” Fralick said.

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