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Glass art lets students leave mark on school

  • Article by: NOELL DICKMANN
  • Associated Press
  • April 14, 2014 - 12:14 AM

OSHKOSH, Wis. — Wearing safety glasses and with Elmer's Glue in hand, second-grader Julia Bock layered fingernail-sized brown and tan pieces of glass on top of each other, shaping her light brown hair in a self-portrait during art class at Washington School in Oshkosh.

"It looks more like hair that way," the 8-year-old said, explaining her creative process as she dropped another dot of glue on a blue background.

Bock and her classmates were in just one of the school's kindergarten through fifth grade classes creating self-portraits out of glass, which will later be fused together as a school portrait. About 300 pieces made by students and staff will make up "Faces in Glass: A Washington School Family Portrait Mural," which will hang in the school's lobby for years to come.

The project reinforces the idea that the school is one big family and everyone is an important part of it, Washington School Art Specialist JoAnn Keen told Oshkosh Northwestern Media (http://oshko.sh/1mRLDL3). It builds community connections and strengthens the ties between students, teachers and families.

The school-wide art project was a collaboration between Keen and Jenna Larson, a glass artist and educator with 15 years of experience with the medium.

"I love the thought of kids working with glass," Larson said, adding that children and glass aren't usually thought to be a good combination. "When you teach them how to use it and how to respect it, they use it as a medium."

Students worked diligently in a calm and quiet classroom Friday, each creating their own artistic reflection of what they look like. They chose from an assortment of colorful, rectangular-shaped backgrounds, circles in different shades for faces and pieces of all shapes and sizes to add as much detail as they liked.

Jedediah Larson-Poeschl, Jenna Larson's 8-year-old son and a student in the class, chose bright blue circles to make his eyes, while a girl a few tables over used a glass nippers to cut a piece smaller.

Maddilyn Selner grabbed a yellow piece with her thumb and index finger — abiding by the safety rule for handling glass — to represent the color of the shirt she was wearing, and Jackson Todd made the freckles on his face out of bits of glass glitter.

"Do you like it?" he said, proudly holding it up.

If the noise levels began to rise, Larson simply raised her hands and the students followed suit, taking a deep breath together before calmly returning to their work.

The collaboration with Larson gave the students an experience they wouldn't have had otherwise, Keen said. The two plan to do similar projects in the future.

"Not only is (Larson) an artist, but she has a degree in art education," Keen said. "We're so lucky to have her here."

Throughout the four-week project students learned about the history, science and art of glass, as well as how to safely use the tools and materials. They explored their sense of self while gaining knowledge about line, shape, collage, realism, color and a variety of other artistic concepts. They will reflect on and write about their experience at the end of the project.

In May the finished mural will be unveiled during the school's family night, sponsored by the 21st Century Community Learning Center and Lighted School House.

The project was funded by the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, SAGE funds, which provide funding for reduced class sizes at schools with high poverty rates, the Washington School Student Council and art budget, and largely by SOAR, or Special Opportunities for Artists in Residence, which provides funding to bring artists, writers and performers to Oshkosh Area School District classrooms.

"Without (SOAR) we would have never been able to do it," Keen said.

Washington School Principal Susan Martin said the art project is a great opportunity for the students to leave a lasting piece at their school.

"It's fantastic," Martin said, echoing Keen's words of gratitude to SOAR. "I think it makes it extra special that the artist happens to be one of our own Washington moms and is a Washington alumni."

Martin said she hopes students take away from the project that though they might look different or come from different places, they all belong to the Washington school family.

"It's awesome and I love that all of the kids gets to put their faces (in it)," she said. "That our whole school family will be on the wall and... that all of us get to play a part."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Oshkosh Northwestern Media

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