Printer Friendly

Racine Prairie School: a touch of glass.

This field trip takes us to a unique art program which exposes middle and high school students to the fascinating art of working with molten glass. The Prairie School is located in Racine, Wisconsin, an industrial city of 85,000, just twenty miles south of MIlwaukee. The Prairie School is nestled in twenty-three acres of wood and meadow prairie overlooking the western shore of Lake Michigan. The school occupies a rambling 126,000 square foot building designed by Taliesin Associates in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School architectural movement.

Prairie School is a nursery through twelfth grade, independent college preparatory school. Total enrollment is 469 and many of the students are from foreign countries. Presently, fourteen nations are represented in the student body.

The drive to the school location is particularly scenic. The road to Lighthouse Drive wends its way through farmland; past the famous Wingspread Conference Center of the Johnson Foundation, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; through well-groome dneighborhoods along the wooded Lake Michigan shore; past a scenic lake-front golf course to the school. Wright's classic design using circles, arcs and interconnecting circle parts, provides an invitation to explore architectural space.

The Staff

The art department of the Racine Prairie School is headed by David Drewek. Drewek joined the faculty in 1965 when the school was first being designed. He teaches students in the high school and middle school, Cathy McCombs teaches middle school and lower school and Chris Pearson handles the four-year-old kindergarten and the younger children in the lower school.

The Facility

The Irene Purcell Johnson Art Center provides facilities which are both aesthetic and functional for the ambitious K-12 art program. The art center contains facilities for drawing, painting, photography, glassblowing, silk-screening, graphic design, ceramics and textile work. In addition, there is a separate art library containing books, periodicals, catalogs, filmstrips and tapes. When you enter the football-shaped main studio, you cannot escape the impression of creative energy. The facility contains a large open studio on the main floor where most of the elementary and middle school program takes place. It is ringed above by a balcony on the north with offices, resource rooms and carrels for the advanced students. The whole area is lit by clerestory windows on the north wall, providing natural lighting. Professional and student artwork is everywhere. The environment definitely supports the concepts of creativity and craftsmanship. The art center was designed by David Drewek and executed by the Taliesen Associates staff to coincide with the Prairie Style.

The Curriculum

Study in the arts is required in elementary and middle levels at the Prairie School and studio courses are elective in the high school. However, over 70% of the upper school students take art. Courses are offered on a semester or yearly basis. Students may take more than one class during a semester if their schedule permits. Drewek accommodates students on an independent study basis if their schedule prohibits regular participation. In addition, students are invited to use the art facilities at any time during the day when they have free time. All art classes take place in the same studio space, which provides incentives for the younger students to anticipate advanced study.

The content of the art curriculum at Prairie School is based upon generally-accepted art education objectives. As a result of involvement in the art program, students are expected to: (1) have intense involvement in and response to personal visual experiences; (2) perceive and understand visual relationships in the environment; (3) think, feel and act creatively with visual art materials; (4) increase manipulative and organizational skills in art performance at appropriate developmental levels; (5) acquire a knowledge of visual art heritage; (6) use art skills in personal and community life; (7) make intelligent visual judgements suited to experience and maturity; and (8) understand the nature of art and the creative process. Art activities at all levels are organized according to these fundamental objectives.

The Visiting Artist Program

Consistent with the philosophy of the Prairie School, an ambitious artist-in-residence program has been in place since the school's inception. The residencies are purposefully planned to augment the curriculum and to enable students to interact with artists and to respond to various art forms. The resident artists may be fine artists, craftspeople or commercial artists. The visiting artists work as if they were in their own studios, as much as possible. The school provides the facilities and, in some cases, the materials, to produce their work. The students observe, discuss and often participate in the process. Additionally, each artist leaves a piece of work with the school fo rits permanent collection.

The Glass Studio

The Prairie School glass studio is a fascinating place. Just down the corridor from the main art studio there is a costant muted musical hum of creative activity and energy. Most of the equipment in the glass studio has been custom made. The studio began nearly twenty years ago as part of the artist-in-residence program. Glass artist Kent Ibsen spent nearly six months as resident artist in glass. He set up the equipment and began the program. Other artists have spent time in the studio, each adding another dimension to the program.

The hum of activity in the studio comes from the furnaces. The main furnace is one of three separate furnaces required to do glass work. The main furnace contains a refractory ceramic crucible full of molten glass. Alongside the main furnace is the glory hole, a smaller gas furnace which is fired only the days on which Drewek intends to create glass objects. The term glory hole applies to the small opening through which the artist passes the glass for reheating as the object is formed. The third furnace is an electric annealing furnace. Any glass object which is blown, drawn or formed, must be placed in the annealing furnace for at least twenty-four hours to bring down the glass temperature gradually. Failure to use the annealing furnace would result in the shattering of the glass due to uneven cooling. Drewek generally starts the main furnace in October and keeps it going, twenty-four hours a day, through May.

In addition to the furnaces, other unique equipment makes the glass studio an intriguing environment. A large stainless steel marver is located between the glory hole and the forming bench. The marver is a plate for rolling and controlling the molten glass in the forming process. A bucket of water next to the forming bench contains water soaked, hand turned, fruitwood forming cups which the artist uses to control the gather of molten glass in the various stages of blowing or forming. A table next to the forming bench contains an array of hand-crafted scribes, probes and clamps to assist in the glass-making process. On the periphery of the room are grinding wheels, polishing devices and etching tools.

The Process

Students are exposed to the process of glasswork in the middle school, first as observers, then in small groups as artists. The approach Drewek takes might be labeled a coaching or apprentice approach. In the beginning, all student work is done with the teacher directly observing and coaching each step in the process with other studetns in the small groups looking on, Students must be completely familiar with all tools and steps in the process before any hands-on work takes place. The process begins with the heating of the tools in the glory hole. Next, the first gather is taken from the molten crucible. The gather is taken to the forming bench where the initial bubble is blown. This glob is then controlled with either a water-saturated wooden form, or taken to the marver to be rolled into shape. The glass is then reheated in the glory hole, taken back to the main furnace for a second gather, and the process is repeated until the object is finished. Colored glass is attached in the glory hole at various steps in the process. The final delicate process is fracturing the glass object with water placed at the critical point and moving to the annealing furnace where a rap on the pipe dislodges the work onto a bed of talc. A day or so later, the piece can be finished on the grinding wheels.

Impact of the Program

The students at the Prairie School have distinguished themselves with State and National Scholastic Awards for their distinctive glass work. When asked why such an esoteric craft has been sustained at Prairie School, Drewek reflected on the twenty-year adventure. "It grew out of the residency of Kent Ibsen. His work was a phenomenal attraction for the students and for me." Subsequent artists have reinforced the program and student interest has remained extremely high. Drewek added, "The board of directors is very receptive to innovative ideas and extremely supportive of the art program." It is apparent that the board and the staff at Prairie School share the art department's vision to make the aesthetic dimension of human expression an integral part of everyday life. "The arts are an integral part of the curriculum and the environment at the Prairie School. The depth of creative thought and the quality of work reflected in the art program is highly valued." Craftsmanship, in the highest sense, is practiced and appreciated at the Racine Prairie School.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Doornek, Richard
Publication:School Arts
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Paul Klee's Twittering Machine.
Next Article:Sit and deliver.

Related Articles
Applications approved under Bank Merger Act. (Legal Developments).
Teacher pleads guilty in sex case.
Spanish: Live It And Learn It!
Spanish Live It And Learn It!

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters