Henkle Middle School Skylight Project
March 26, 2010
80 colorful panels of glass swivel and sway in the skylight at the entrance of Henkle Middle School in White Salmon. They were produced by three classes of 5th and 6th graders led by their art teacher, Betsy Petrick. The project wouldn’t have been possible without funding from the Washington State Arts Commission and the Oregon Glass Guild.
I met with Mrs. Petrick in early February to discuss and plan the project, originally a glass mobile. Safety issues and technical aspects overcome, and supplies purchased we began our journey the first Monday in March.
The students studied Jackson Pollock and Alexander Calder while I cut up sheets of Bullseye Glass. Faye Malench produced hand pulled stringer for us; and I contacted Tom Herrera to get started on the support structure.
Students waited their turn in line to select frit and stringer. After the first session Mrs. Petrick and I realized we needed more help to dispense glass quicker and have more contact with students as they built their panels.
Students placed a clear panel of glass over their drawing, then bent high temp wire into an omega shape and glued it on the top center of their panel. They either buried it with frit or placed a small piece of sheet glass over it so it would become embedded in the glass.
The panels were transported to my studio kilns for firing. A Paragon above and Skutt below. Each student also made a small pendant to keep for themselves.
My three kilns were loaded and reloaded several times for 80 panels.
First group finished. We used a process temperature of 1385º to retain texture.
Second group finished. A few of the panels had to be re-fired as the wire wasn’t completely buried in frit.
Third group finished. Thanks to Valerie Adams for leading me to Flex-Tec, an anti-shatter coating that I painted on all the panels after they were fired. Thanks especially to Mark at His Glassworks for holding my hand during my learning curve. Finally, fishing swivels were attached to the embedded wire so the panels would twist and we were ready to install.
Metal artist Tom Herrera designed and produced the metal supports. Henkle’s Jim Mansfield drilled all the holes and clear-coated for us, then installed the supports within one day!
Mrs. Petrick and I each took two sides of the skylight and arranged panels so the colors would flow and the relative visual weight of each panel would balance.
The ‘man-lifter’ felt much safer to use than the ladders! As we installed each panel it was fun to hear all the positive comments as students and staff walked by. “There’s mine!” each of the art students said as they spotted theirs, pointing it out to their friends.
We found a rhythm inserting the metal wires, twisting to secure and moving on to the next panel.
I went back the following morning to snip off the excess wire, completing the project.
Good thing many of my photos were blurry or you’d be looking at even more detail shots!
As we finished Mrs. Petrick pondered the possibility of adding more rows of panels, moving up the skylight each year. Wouldn’t that be fun!?!!
One of the best parts of a project like this, is watching the kids come to know and understand glass and it’s seemingly limitless possibilities. You can see their enthusiasm for the media grow and their pride in ownership when we’ve completed the project. Some kids are already interested, curious and willing to learn. Other kids are afraid they’ll cut themselves, or display disinterest because they already think they have no artistic ability. Some are tired because they haven’t had enough sleep or worried about an upcoming test and can’t concentrate on the task at hand.
With heartfelt joy I tell you by the end of a project like this, there is a smile on every kid’s face, full of pride and authority from their newfound knowledge. It’s that beaming smile I always remember beyond the project.