Tonawanda News

May 16, 2013

The colors of teamwork

Tonawanda art students turn visit to Corning Museum of Glass into Chihuly-inspired sculpture

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — For years, eighth-graders at the City of Tonawanda Middle/High School have embarked upon an annual road trip to the Corning Museum of Glass, taking away their own forms of inspiration, education and culture.

This year, they took away something a little bit bigger: The seeds for one massive — and very colorful — work of art.

The 29 eighth-grade students visited the museum in early April, said teacher Daniel Lynch. Before the trip, they’d already studied glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and his artwork — and started working on a piece inspired by  him — but while at the museum, the group learned that Chihuly himself had been there only weeks before them. The artist, deeming his “Fern Green Tower” piece at the site too small, had his team dissemble and reassemble the glass artwork with additional pieces, increasing it from 11 to 15 1/2 feet tall with an additional 200 blown-glass elements. 

The student saw the newly reassembled artwork, viewed photos of how the task was accomplished and returned to the school determined to do the same with their own chandelier-inspired piece of artwork, Lynch said. 

“It was kind of funny, because when we got back, I could see them looking at it and thinking, ‘Ours isn’t big enough,’ “ he said. “It gave us an opportunity to research (Chihuly) further and what he did at Corning.”

The Tonawanda project doesn’t reach 15 1/2 feet, and it’s not glass ... but it’s earned a nod on the Corning Museum of Glass’ blog nonetheless. Students, trying to evoke the blown-glass shapes for which Chihuly’s work is famous, created individual pieces for it out of plastic bottles and acrylic paint of varying strengths, cut into spirals that were gradually added to an inner form of wire. The final work includes more than 150 pieces in nearly as many shades of color.

While the students learned a lot about various forms of artwork from the project, Lynch said, more than anything else, he’ll remember their teamwork.

“They’re a good group of kids to begin with, but just to see all of them coming in after school, and talking about it, saying ‘This should go there’ and ‘That should be here’ ... that’s the best part,” he said.

Students who worked on the piece said that they’d learned a lot from what they saw at the museum, including the Chihuly piece. Many spoke about how impressed they were by the artwork and how deceptive it could be.

“It looked so complex, but it was so simple,” said Gabrielle Amato.  

Student Tim Tyler agreed.

“Some of the artwork there, you look at it and say, ‘How in the world did they did that?’” he said.

Connor Maxwell, who deemed the trip “awesome,” said he’d learned things not only from the museum visit, but also from the process of putting the students’ piece together.

“It was very messy,” he said. “And Gatorade bottles are not good bottles for this.”

The chandelier and many other pieces of student art created by those in kindergarten through 12th grade will be featured in the school district’s upcoming student art show, which will take place June 4 to 6 at the high school wellness gym. An opening reception will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. June 4, and a closing reception and awards ceremony will follow from 6 to 8 p.m. June 6.

The exhibit will also feature work by students that recently won second place in their age category — and a $650 grant — in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Art’scool “Inspired” art contest 

Teacher Tina Edholm-McNelis said that students from the studio art classes visited the gallery in December, and were inspired by the Sol Lewitt-conceived “Wall Drawing #1268” at the gallery to create their own pencil works on 16-by-20-inch pieces of paper. Selected students from the classes, including ninth-graders Julia Ruch, Elizabeth Kanalley and Ciara Woodin, were then chosen to execute their works directly on the wall near the art classrooms, much like the drawing is directly on the wall at the Albright-Knox.

IF YOU GO • WHAT: Tonawanda City School District art show • WHEN: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 4, 5 and 6. There will be an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. June 4 and a closing reception from 6 to 8 p.m. June 6. • WHERE: Tonawanda High School wellness gym, 600 Fletcher St., City of Tonawanda