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Season’s Greenings: Putting wrapping paper to use at the Notebaert Museum

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Each Christmas-Chanukah-Kwanzaa season, people spend hours wrapping presents for co-workers and bosses, neighbors and pets, paperboys and babysitters, favorite teachers, insurance adjusters and loved ones. Then, in a matter of a few short seconds, all that hard, heartfelt work and beautiful paper is cruelly slashed through and carelessly discarded, never to be used again. It’s a holiday tragedy of epic proportions. But, never fear, the Peggy Notebaert Museum is here.

“So many people throw away wrapping paper and we are trying to reduce what goes into the waste stream,” explains museum educator Kat Silverstein. “There is so much to do with wrapping paper instead of throwing it out.”

As part of its annual Gifting Green Holiday Recycling Program, the Nature Museum organizes the creation of a community wrapping-paper mural.

“It is partly to create something beautiful for ourselves and partly to show people how to re-use,” Silverstein elaborates.

Upstairs at the Peggy Notebaert Museum, it’s a workshop of post-holiday production. Kids flutter here, there and everywhere using recycled wrapping paper to fill in the colorful painting created by freelance museum educator Erik Peterson.

“I can touch the sky!” exclaims 4-year-old Noah Goldblatt as he uses bright blue Chanukah paper to decorate the sky of Peterson’s painting. “Well, not the sky outside, but this sky,” he dutifully corrects himself.

In another corner, 5-year-old Kalea abandons the paint-by-numbers structure of the community mural and uses wrapping paper to create a thank-you note for Mrs. Claus, perceptively sensing, perhaps, that she is often overlooked and under-appreciated.

“Dear Mrs. Claus, You are very nice. Thank you. Kiss Kiss Kiss,” it reads.

The community-wrapping-paper-mural, a work almost entirely dependent on the attention span of young museum-goers, often becomes a long-term project.

“The two murals we created last year took two weeks to finish,” says Peterson.

Understandably. Earth-saving and masterpiece-making can’t happen overnight. Fortunately, the museum is willing to put in the time.

“Green programs are our M.O. here,” says Silverstein. “We want to show people that there is nature in Chicago and that city-dwellers can be responsible for their own imprint.”

Practicing what they preach, the museum gets greener every day. They rely heavily on natural light, use solar panels, eat with environmentally friendly, made-from-potatoes cutlery and walk around on compostable carpet squares.

While Chicago does not yet have a comprehensive recycling program (“If New York can do it, we can do it,” says Silverstein), the mural project and all others like it at the museum demonstrate daily progress. (Meaghan Strickland)

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