Students craft intricate glass mural for Alberta Rider Elementary's entry

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Students at Alberta Rider Elementary School glue pieces of glass together to make a butterfly for a mural students have been creating for the past month.When it’s finished, the giant glass mural at Alberta Rider Elementary School will be one of a kind.

Students at the Bull Mountain school for weeks have been crafting the finishing touches on their small glass pieces — gluing bits of fused glass together to create butterflies, rainbows and snowflakes.

The pieces — each no larger than the palm of your hand — will soon be fused together to create a rich glass tapestry depicting each of the seasons, along with a replica of Mount Hood.

In total, 645 students participated in the project, using 16,500 pieces of fused glass, said Angela Lawton-Wallesen, a parent volunteer.

Each grade took on a different part of the project, designing either a rainbow or aspects of the four seasons.

“It’s hard to make it look the same on each side,” said 10-year-old Ashton Hoff-Elsing, as he carefully placed pieces into the shape of a dragonfly. “You don’t want to overdo it.”

“The hardest part about making butterflies is getting them to look like butterflies,” added fellow fourth-grader Paige Lawton-Ulwelling.

Teachers at the school have also contributed to the creative process, adding thousands of pieces to create Mount Hood.

The art project will be installed in the front of the school in a permanent display to welcome new students and their families into the school community.

The mural is the brainchild of Lawton-Wallesen who came up with the idea after taking her children to a local glass-blowing studio.

When the idea for a school-wide project came up, Lawton-Wallesen knew exactly what to do.

“There are these big gray square windows at the entrance to the school,” Lawton-Wallesen said. “I asked, ‘What if we make those colorful and welcoming? Can we do this?’”

Students began work on the project at the beginning of February, and the project will be finished later this month.

The glass mural is a first for the school, Lawton-Wallesen said.

“This is the first time we have ever done a school-wide project that will stay at the school,” she said. “Normally, the kids get to take their projects home.”

Lawton-Wallesen plans to have the piece installed by the time students return from spring break on March 28.

“That way the kids can come back to it and see it,” she said.

The project is overseen by the Tigard-Tualatin School District’s Art Literacy program, which teaches students across the district about art by engaging them in projects.

Along with the mural, the students also learned about Dale Chihuly, the famous Washington glass artist whose art has been featured around the world.

“It’s a great way to introduce (students) to glass as an art,” Lawton-Wallesen said.

When finished, the mural will cost the school about $3,000, Lawton-Wallesen said.

Two-thirds of the funding came from the Foundation for Tigard Tualatin Schools. Local businesses stepped up to donate funds to cover the remaining expenses.

“I don’t know of any other schools that have done a glass project like this,” Lawton-Wallesen said. “We need to do more of these.”

Lawton-Wallesen said the school might stagger future school-wide collaborations in the next few years, given the cost to produce such large-scale projects.

“What will probably happen going forward is starting with the fifth-graders, and then staging it over a couple of years,” Lawton-Wallesen said.

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