Central MA Science Festival picks up steam

LEOMINSTER – It was full STEAM ahead on a sunny Saturday at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster for the fourth annual Central MA Science Festival.

The popular, free event highlights the importance of STEAM-related learning (STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) and there were plenty of hands-on exhibits for the more than 500 visitors who had come through by 1 p.m., with another two hours to go, volunteer Kelly A. Hartnett said.

Among the 35 exhibits were activities and workshops on 3-D printing, robotics, Lego building, aviation, beekeeping, coding, origami, nature crafts and oceanography.

“It is a great event,” Ms. Hartnett said. “Everyone seems super happy and we’ve expanded our exhibits. We also have a lot of repeat exhibitors who have supported us since the beginning.”

Jesse W. Varga, manager at the Caterpillar Lab in Keene, New Hampshire, showed children a “tent” built by Eastern tent caterpillars on a thin branch.

Jacob P. Janssens, robotics competition mentor at the Boys & Girls Club, talked to kids about the robot built by 10 students with mentors’ help. The club’s team, called the Terrorbots, is competing in the world championship for the first time since the program started seven years ago.

Yazmin W. Rios, 26, from Leominster, checked out the team’s arsenal of Terrorbots with her daughters Delaya, 6, and Mayah, 4.

“The kids have never been here before,” she said. “It is interesting. We like it. I would go, again. The girls liked the art workshops more. I like all of them, but one of the exhibits outside with the water was my favorite. I like the texture of it. I think everyone should come because it is really interesting and you can learn a lot.”

Mark D. Ricci of Westminster was driving by the club with his son Cooper A. Ricci, 10, and decided to check it out, he said.

“I like the robots,” Cooper said. “I built a robot last year at my school. We made it out of Legos.” Cooper said he liked the holograms and lasers, too.

The club’s executive director, Donata Martin, said the event grows every year and she is looking at expanding it to two days next year.

As she participated in the “panning for gold” activity with a group of children, she said, “It’s bigger than last year. We want to make it a two-day event next year because 3 o’clock rolls around quickly and everyone hasn’t had a chance to go through all the exhibits yet.”

YUMMM! Visions of Food at AVAM

Bret McCabe
February 21, 2017


Ruby C. WilRuby C. Williams, "Farm Boy with a Duck." Part of Yummm! at AVAM.liams sells produce at a stand along Florida’s State Road 60, which runs east-west through the Sunshine State from Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico, through Tampa, and on to Vero Beach on the Atlantic Coast. She hand-paints signs to entice passing motorists to stop, and her advertisements are rendered in bright acrylic paint on board. Sometimes they’re simple—an orange circle on a matte grey background cheerily offering “sweet orange Florida’s best” or a bold red circle with a short green stem and leaves announcing “farm tomatoes.” Other signs deliver an almost aphoristic uplift, such as a green and gold flower surrounded by text that reads, “It’s getting better,” or a portrait of a woman in blue on gold board that suggests, “It’s a great thing to love someone.”


Ruby C. Williams, “Farm Boy with a Duck.” Part of YUMMM! at AVAM.

A collection of Williams’ paintings swallows an entire wall on the third floor of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., and the installation calibrates the brain for thinking about the museum’s current, yearlong exhibition, YUMMM! The History, Fantasy, and Future of Food. Everything here brings to mind all the ways that people think about and use food as nourishment for body, mind, and community.What raises YUMMM a notch or two above AVAM’s typically ambitious and wide-ranging mammoth exhibitions is how effortlessly it captures the museum’s unorthodox mission and education goals: the works from the 35 included artists fuse form and function, emotions and science, and the personal and the political to describe visual art that is as poignant as it is smart. YUMMM‘s visual cornucopia simply pulls off such heady sophistication in the plainspoken vernacular of a buffet restaurant.

Wendy Brackman, "Brackman's Botanical Bonanza," Hand painted paper plates, straws, Ping-Pong balls, paper towel tubes, endless staples. Photo credit Jill Ribich. Part of Yummm! at AVAM.Wendy Brackman, “Brackman’s Botanical Bonanza,” Hand painted paper plates, straws, Ping-Pong balls, paper towel tubes, endless staples. Photo credit Jill Ribich. Part of Yummm! at AVAM.And like a smorgasbord, the exhibition threatens to overwhelm the brain initially. One of the first things that grabs the eyes upon entering the exhibition is “Brackman’s Botanical Bonanza,” a nearly 10-foot-diameter mandala made entirely of paper plates, straws, and paper towel tubes. As constructed by artist Wendy Brackman, who also made a mandala for AVAM’s 2012 All Things Round exhibition, paper bees, ants, and ears of corn adorn the work’s outer circle, and each subsequent inner circle of the mandala contains a garden of flowering blooms, cabbage heads, pineapples, and carrots. Press a button near the installation and a motor cranks the four circles that make up the mandala, turning it into a whirling kaleidoscope of vegetation. It’s visually dramatic, but it also slyly articulates one of YUMMM‘s understated themes: food saturates every point on the circle of life. What we consume, how we prepare it, and who we eat it with is inextricably intertwined with how we identify and sustain ourselves and our lives.


Joe Bello, "Pizza Package." Part of Yummm! at AVAM.Joe Bello, “Pizza Package.” Part of Yummm! at AVAM.Joe Bello pushes the relationship between how food shapes the human physique with his figurines cut out from commercial food-product packaging. An array of these disarming cut-outs are found in a hallway gallery of the YUMMM‘s sprawling exhibition. Initially they feel merely endearing, looking like curio silhouettes of cowboys, boxers, men in suits, dancers, couples, gymnasts made from the cardboard packaging that houses crackers, frozen pizzas, bacon, orange juice, and others. It’s only after the brain spends a few minutes trying to figure out which name brands some of this imagery comes from—that’s a box of Ritz, that’s Triscuit, etc.—that Bello’s sly commentary emerges. A 2016 study reported that more than half of all calories consumed in the U.S. come from the processed foods associated with these corporate branded items, which are leading causes of obesity and heart disease. And in Bello’s art, these mass-produced substances are what make us.The Revolving Museum's “The Bread Community Art Project,” an all-bread mural created by over 250 youth, artists and community members from Fitchburg, MA. and Baltimore, MD.The Revolving Museum’s “The Bread Community Art Project,” an all-bread mural created by over 250 youth, artists and community members from Fitchburg, MA. and Baltimore, MD. On view in YUMMM! at AVAM.Elsewhere, the exhibition spotlights food’s role as a social binding. In the mid 1980s Jerry Beck, an artist and educator in the greater Boston area, founded the Revolving Museum as a site for collaborative, community-based art projects. When its brick-and-mortar home closed in 2012, Beck turned the idea into a nomadic enterprise. In 2016 the Revolving Museum partnered with the Fitchburg and Leominster’s Boys and Girls Club in Western Massachusetts for the Bread Art project, a wall mural made entirely from bread. Baking sheets were lined with dough to form canvases, dough was rolled up, stretched out, shaped into lettering, and sliced into to form lines and designs, and the baked end results are mounted in a single YUMMM gallery. For other works, individual pieces of toast are treated as tiles to form mosaic-like works. All the Bread Project pieces address social issues, from hunger to economic inequality: “money is not the only dough” reads one work. Both the bread as medium and the young people’s art ideas could be too cutesy on their own; combined they become something quietly powerful, a collage of idealistic sentiments that forms a community.

The Shared Dining installation. Part of Yummm! at AVAM.The Shared Dining installation. Part of Yummm! at AVAM.

The installation “Shared Dining” offers a snapshot of different communities: inmates at a women’s prison in Connecticut. The installation, inspired by Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” features a triangular table laid out with ten place settings created by an incarcerated woman, with each setting dedicated to somebody significant to the artist. One setting is laid out for race car driver Danica Patrick, one for Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, and one is laid out for the woman the inmate killed while driving drunk. It’s a work that possesses a bit of the quiet power of the Names Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt, a mix of testimony and remembrance.

Joe Bello, "Pareidolic cut-out selections", Food Packaging. PArt of Yummm! at AVAM.Joe Bello, “Pareidolic cut-out selections”, Food Packaging. PArt of Yummm! at AVAM.

Works such as “Shared Dining” and Joe Bello’s cut-outs illustrate how food and eating is wrapped up in many aspects of life, but YUMMM doesn’t shy away from simple pleasures, either. A number of works unite visual joy and tastiness, perhaps none more so than Cuban artist Ramon Alejandro’s “La Origine,” “La Terre Promise,” and especially “La mécanisme de la multiplication des désirs.” These luscious oil-on-canvas paintings are surreal landscapes populated with gorgeously rendered fruit. “La mécanisme de la multiplication des désirs”—the mechanism of the multiplication of desires—features a tree, whose branches resemble the curved woodwork at the top of a cello’s head, that sits on the pinkish-beach against a blue-gray sky. Large pineapples, papayas, and bananas surround it, and Alejandro paints the scene with the crisp elegance of a Rene Magritte canvas. It’s beautiful to look, even though it doesn’t entirely make sense.

Craig R. Norton Spending Time with Grandma: Garden 2014 Ink, wood, wallpaper and papier mâche Courtesy of the artistCraig R. Norton, “Spending Time with Grandma: Garden,” Ink, wood, wallpaper and papier mâche, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

So go ahead and overstuff a plate at AVAM: this exhibition finds a different way to accomplishing what Upton Sinclair feels like he failed to do with his The Jungle novel about American slaughterhouses in 1906. Sinclair hoped his labor-minded novel might inspire Americans to rethink the working conditions of the people who touch our food; what his book ended up producing, however, as journalist and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser noted in the forward for the 2006 reprint of the The Jungle, was legislation that protected food consumers from misbehavior by corporate food producers. Sinclair later wrote: “I aimed for the public’s heart and by accident hit it in the stomach.” YUMMM shows that it’s possible for art to hit the heart on its way to hitting stomach that art can be one of the most effective ways for thinking about how food shapes who we are and the world we hope to inhabit.YUMMM! The History, Fantasy, and Future of Food, at the American Visionary Art Museum through September 3, 2017



A look at 20 local people who helped make 2016 memorable

For the seventh year, the Sentinel & Enterprise is looking back at the people who won our hearts, stimulated our minds and piqued our curiosity over the past 12 months.

These local people — among them politicians, public servants, professors, performers and community advocates — helped make 2016 memorable.

1. Kevin Roy

Roy’s quick response to a fire in the early hours of Feb. 10 earned the Fitchburg Fire Chief and 41-year department veteran a Medal of Valor during the Firefighter of the Year awards this November.

When a fire started in a house at 174 Walton St., Roy could see the blaze from his home.

He entered the duplex and pulled an unconscious 60-year-old man to safety.

Read more…

Organizers put final touches on 23rd annual Appleseed Festival

Sentinel & Enterprise Staff
Sentinel & Enterprise
September 14, 2016

Organizers are planning for another successful Johnny Appleseed Festival on the weekend of Sept. 24-25. 		Courtesy PHOTO / Richard MarchandSentinel and

Organizers are planning for another successful Johnny Appleseed Festival on the weekend of Sept. 24-25. Courtesy PHOTO / Richard Marchand

LEOMINSTER — On the weekend of Sept. 24-25, the city will celebrate its 23rd annual Johnny Appleseed Arts and Cultural Festival. And while plenty of activities are planned, organizers are still seeking sponsors.

“After last year’s event, it is hard to imagine this year’s event could be even bigger and better,” said Richard Marchand, who has been organizing the festival for 18 years.

Last year, the festival was followed by the 100th anniversary parade, which was the culmination of a long year of planning and city-wide activities to celebrate the city’s centennial.

“This year, we get back to the basics being a day to celebrate community with events and activities that are cross generational to be enjoyed by all,” he said.

The main stage located at the opening of Church Street onto West Street will have live entertainment all day long.

From 9 a.m. to noon, school-based instrumental and chorus groups will perform. Read more…

Reaching for the stars: Space-themed program touches down in Leominster

By David Dore
Leominster Champion
August 26, 2016

Former NASA astronaut Don Thomas, back left, and Michelle Lucas, back right, founder and president of Higher Orbits, stand with the 17 middle and high school students who took part in “Go for Launch!” last week at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster. 
David Dore photo

Former NASA astronaut Don Thomas, back left, and Michelle Lucas, back right, founder and president of Higher Orbits, stand with the 17 middle and high school students who took part in “Go for Launch!” last week at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburgand Leominster. David Dore photo

Before they could imagine going to space, about 15 middle and high school students had a few things to learn here on Earth — such as how to speak in front of a group, present materials and overcome nervousness.

“Everybody gets nervous,” Michelle Lucas said. “It’s just kind of natural.”

Lucas, a former International Space Station flight controller and astronaut instructor, urged them when speaking to an audience to make eye contact, speak loudly enough to be heard in the back of the room, change their rate of speech if necessary (depending on the situation and the part of the country they’re in), pause and breathe when needed (but don’t use filler words such as “um” and “uh” too much), and “keep it simple, but informative” in their talks and PowerPoint presentations.

As for overcoming nervousness, Lucas told them to take a deep breath, relax and trust their knowledge — or do what works for them.

And, she said, don’t forget to smile. Read more…

Boys & Girls Club wraps up summer with a Blast

By Lucy Norton, teen intern
Sentinel & Enterprise
August 21, 2016

LEOMINSTER — On our last week here at the Boys & Girls Club, we had an especially fun week planned to make sure the kids remembered us until our upcoming school year.

The staff and kids had a blast this summer and were very sad to say goodbye to their favorite summer camp. But that didn’t stop us from having a blast on their last week of the Summer Blast Program.

Our Juniors started back again with their bread mural and lots of other fun arts activities, including Tie-Dye Fun, Camp Crafts, Art in the Garden, and even Pokemon Origami, keeping up with the worldwide phenomenon that is Pokemon Go. Some of the kids’ favorite STEAM activities this week were Lego Design, Minecraft EDU, Science STEM mentoring and Robotech. In our cooking programs this week, the kids made scrumptious Taco Fiesta Salad and baked up some delicious treats in Easy Baking. Read more…

Sign-ups open for Boys & Girls Club after school program

The Leominster Champion
August 18, 2016

With schools starting in a few weeks, many parents are thinking ahead to what their children will be doing in the hours after school.

For local youth, a popular option is the after school program at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, which is currently accepting applications for the fall program.

The program, which starts on Sept. 6, is geared for kids aged 8-18. Children between 8 and 12 years old spend their afternoons in the Junior Clubhouse, which is open from 2:30-6 p.m. every weekday. Members aged 13-18 spend their time in the club’s Teen Center, which is open 2:30- 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Read more…

Ex-astronaut has campers exploring wonders of science

Former NASA astronaut Don Thomas and Founder /President of Higher Orbits Michelle Lucas listens to some ideas from Madeline Hammar, 11, from Leominster as she explains some of the ideas that her group came up with for experiments in space at the Fitchburg/Leominster Boys and Girls Club this week. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

By Peter Jasinski
Sentinel & Enterprise
August 18, 2016

Photo Gallery | Astronaut visits Boys & Girls Club

 LEOMINSTER — According to Don Thomas, there are about a million things that will catch you by surprise during your first time in outer space, but the one that stands out is something he saw outside the space shuttle’s window during his first mission.

“I was looking out at city lights and the night below me and I saw a small zip of light go by,” the former astronaut said.

The light, it turned out, was a shooting star passing below him.

“Here on Earth, when you want to see a shooting star you look up at the sky. When you’re in space and you want to see one you look back at Earth,” he said.

Read more…

Boys & Girls Club to host event promoting STEM careers

By Anna Burgess
Sentinel & Enterprise
August 13, 2016

LEOMINSTER — Next week, local middle- and high-school students will have a chance to explore the final frontier from their own community.

Go For Launch, an educational and experimental space camp run by nonprofit Higher Orbits, is coming to the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster from Monday through Wednesday.

The Go For Launch program will give students a chance to hear space-shuttle experiences from retired astronaut Dr. Don Thomas, and to design their own space experiments — one of which might go into orbit.

The camp’s purpose, in part, is to encourage young people to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, said program director Michelle Lucas.

“I’ve had comments from students that we’ve shown them there’s a lot more options with science than they ever considered,” Lucas said. “We’re not trying to turn them all into rocket scientists, but what we do love is that space is a great way to get students excited about STEM, irrespective of what they want to do when they grow up.” Read more…

Kids get crafty in Summer Blast program at Boys & Girls Club

By Lucy Norton
Sentinel & Enterprise
July 31, 2016

Week 5 of Summer Blast is wrapping up here for the kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster. The Sprouts and Juniors are sad to see another another fun week at camp go, but the staff are just as excited as the kids to come back next week to restart some of their favorite activities here at the club!

The Juniors had lots of fun in store this week, including a very special surprise in Kids in Clay. They made edible murals out of toasted bread, and after they are all finished, their artwork will be displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum in the exhibit Yum! in Baltimore.

Tsuhey are also still having a blast in Summer Patch Mural, where they have just finished their Kandinsky Tree and Camp Crafts.

DSC06474 Club members pose by their bread mural, which will be put on display in an art museum in Baltimore when they are finished.

Read more…

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