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It started as a casual conversation in Valley Regional High School's library media center. Val Kropiwnicki, sculpture teacher in the school's Fine Arts Department, had dropped in to greet Kristine Schmidt, the new library media specialist. As they walked through the library, Schmidt said she loved the light that pours into the space, but wanted to bring in more color and more life.
Kropiwnicki proposed a solution. He would send in his sculpture students. The result of that initial discussion is a series of lively, colorful, and intriguing steel, aluminum, and plexiglass sculptures now installed on the walls of the library media center.
"The experience was designed to help the students understand what working artists go through and to learn valuable lessons," Kropiwnicki explained. "They had to deal with a lot of variables, logistics, decisionmaking. They had to work with others, accept critiques, [and] be willing to listen to their client."
Schmidt, the client, is pleased with the result and impressed by the entire process.
"This is a lovely space," she said, gesturing around the library, "But there was not a lot of color and not a lot of life. This is now more than a library. It is a 21st-century space that we want to function as a learning commons. If you look around, there are classes underway here, students doing research, others using computer labs or their own laptops. We want this to be a lively space."
She started with an online student survey because she wanted them to feel an ownership in the space. The answers verified her thinking-more color, more life.
When she shared this with Kropiwnicki, "He said he had a sculpture class and asked, 'What if we approach this as a commission?' It was an exciting opportunity."
The project started with interviews. The students interviewed Schmidt and Linda Canterbury, assistant library media specialist, separately and asked each a series of questions. The students then began their designs.
"They had their own ideas, and I let them run with them. They had to learn how to make the client happy while keeping their own vision as artists," Kropiwnicki said.
Schmidt and Canterbury were called back in for critiques. Ten designs, which had been drawn out on plain paper, were selected and later translated onto 10 small boards. From there, students worked in groups to design five sculptures. It was a nine-week process, the students explained, from drawing the design to scale on the floor of their classroom to the mechanics of putting their sculpture together. It took nuts, bolts, L-brackets, welding, and a tablesaw in addition to the steel, aluminum, and plexiglass.
"The students had to work within a specific space, with a client's preferences, with the limited materials already purchased, and a deadline. It was a real life situation and a learning experience. The project also required the students to work as teams, to adjust, and to problem solve," Kropiwnicki added. "Everything we want to do in a sculpture class we did in this project."
And what does the client think?
"It's great. The day after the sculptures were hung, students would stop when they walked in. They would see the work immediately. It's 3-D. It pops off the wall. It becomes a permanent part of the school, and that is a legacy," Schmidt said.