A new permanent piece of art has been installed at the Canajoharie Middle School — a piece that took careful planning, 140 students and a little blood to complete.
For the third year in a row, the students in Michelle Egelston’s art class completed a mural project to hang in the school, but this time they worked with glass instead of paint.
The roughly 10-foot by 10-foot mosaic uses 7,000 pieces of glass to create a picture of a large tree with roots and branches similar to the Celtic tree of life. The background shows both Little Nose and Big Nose, the mountains that surround Canajoharie. Each corner shows one of the four seasons and the tree is framed with a circle with the words “Respect,” “Responsibility,” “Hope,” “Sharing” and “Honesty.”
The words are character traits that coordinate with the school’s Character Education Program.
Egelston, who is finishing her sixth year as the art teacher at Canajoharie Middle School, said she liked the mosaic project better than the other two murals because it incorporated more people. A hierarchy of skill levels was apparent with the last two painted murals as some of the students were better at drawing than others. Working with glass required more teamwork to cut the pieces into the right shape and put them together like a puzzle.
“It’s completely unique,” she said.
A favorite activity among the students was taking blocks of glass and smashing them with hammers to get small shards which were used to create the grass around the tree.
The students put the glass pieces, most of which are one-inch squares, together like a puzzle. Some of the pieces needed to be cut to fit the pattern. After the pieces were in place they placed a large sticky sheet over the pieces and lifted them all up as one unit. They grouted the cement surface and then placed all the pieces back.
“It’s so insane,” Egelston said. “No one would ever think of doing anything like this.”
Students became hooked on the project, Egelston said, and stayed until 7 p.m. working on it each night. Parents also became involved. Egelston said it was a good opportunity for parents to get involved with their child’s school life.
“There aren’t many opportunities for middle school parents to get involved; they don’t do field trips or things like that,” she said.
The project was divided into five pieces. A large circle depicting the tree was one piece, and the four corners that show the seasons and a portion of the circle with words were the four others. The school’s maintenance staff attached the five pieces together and to the wall once they were completed. The project was done in two weeks.
The mosaic, like the last two mural projects, was completed using a grant from the New York State Alliance for Arts in Education. This year’s $2,500 grant funded half of the mosaic project. The middle school PTO funded the majority of the second half and the district kicked in the rest, Egelston said.
Boston-based artist Joshua Weiner visited the school during the project. He worked with Egelston to create a drawing of the mosaic and he also brought the needed materials, including the glass pieces.
“This is permanent work,” Egelston said. “Everyone who walks by will see it, so I think it boosted their self-esteem a lot too.”
Shania Ruszkowski, 14, an eighth-grader, said the hardest part of the project was cutting the glass pieces to fit the picture, especially the corner pieces that had to fit a certain way.
Ruszkowski, Holly Miller, 14, and Abbey Dearwester, 14, also eighth-graders, spent a lot of time working on the mosaic.
The girls were allowed to miss some academic classes to work on the project. Egelston said she scheduled the project for the beginning of March, a long month in the school year that doesn’t involved any testing.
The girls all said they cut their fingers while working with the glass but liked the fact that it was hard work and they were able to get dirty.
“A lot of blood and sweat went into this project,” Egelston said.