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Eli Coblenz 26 winning rhino sculpture on Kenya Round Square trip

Eli Coblenz turned clay and metal wire into a souvenir from one of the most important trips of his life.

The Providence Day School sophomore created a sculpture of a rhinoceros bust, replacing the animal’s horns with telephone towers made of wire. The artwork was Eli’s twofold nod to one of Africa’s native species and how the continent has evolved into the 21st century.

“I’ve played with Play-Doh before,” Eli says, laughing. “But nothing like this.” Eli and his rhino sculpture won the Roy McComish Art Award for the 16-18 years category in October at the Round Square International Conference at Brookhouse School in Nairobi, Kenya. He was one of a group of Providence Day Upper School students that participated in the 2023 Round Square International Conference - both the art contest and conference were themed “The New Africa.”

“I did a lot of research, and as I was writing my application for the trip itself, I started thinking about what the ‘New Africa’ means to me,” Eli says. “It really is important to remember and sustain all of the traditions and wildlife, while also realizing the innovation.”

Eli Coblenz 26 winning rhino sculpture on Kenya Round Square trip

The African rhino, split into black and white rhino, are at risk because of poaching and the demand for the animal’s horns. The white rhino has been at the brink of extinction. “The lesson is on sustainability,” Eli says. “Sustaining these animals.” He says he used a thin sheet of clay because it’s “forgiving.” He built the sculpture across about a month-and-a-half and finished in mid-August. The artwork competed against a range of projects from students across the world. 

“It’s going to be a memory that symbolizes all that I learned,” Eli says. “It’s a message I should carry forward about sustainability and growth. You have to maintain a balance between all aspects of life - between the people and the animals and the land with growth and new technology. It’s what I learned while we were in Kenya.”

Eli’s project was his first foray into clay art. He’s built his artistic portfolio from drawing to singing to theater since he was a child. “It’s a creative outlet, a way for you to express yourself and see everything come together,” he says. “The idea for the art project was to create an animal bust. I wanted it to be more than a drawing. I wanted people to be able to look at it from all angles instead of looking at one image. It stood out,”

The Roy McComish Award is named after the founding headmaster of Box Hill School, and before that, a master at Gordonstoun School, two of the schools that formed the Round Square community. 

Roy led an international group of a hundred students who volunteered to help in the wake of earthquakes in Greece in 1955, and this became the inspiration for what later became the Round Square International Service Project. 

Eli and the other winners received a pair of Kenyan sculptures and certificates. “The award rounded everything out,” Ely says. “The sculpture is the message I was trying to spread: live in harmony with all of the animals and nature.”

Stay tuned for a full feature on the Round Square trip, including student images. We will bring that to you in a couple of weeks.