An original, and unique, large glass art piece was dedicated to Valley School on April 22 to connect the students and community in several ways. The commissioned artwork was developed especially for Valley following a year-long process to choose an artist to complete an installation for the Washington State Arts Commission.
Following the passage of a school bond used to pay for the past expansion of Valley School, among other district building projects, one half of one percent of the state match funding was dedicated to creating a piece of original art for the Art in Public Places program.
A committee of school staff and community members formed about a year ago to develop the criteria for a piece to best represent the school and community, select a site for the artwork, and choose an artist out of a hundred public artists on the commission’s existing roster.
The committee selected glass artist Michael Dupille of Seattle, partly due to his chosen medium and the connection it has to the Lane Mountain silica sand plant in Valley that distributes material for creating glass and other products. The artwork is produced using a lesser known process Dupille helped pioneer called fritography. He incorporated many images representative of the community in a colorful design by fusing crushed glass (frit) fired in a kiln multiple times.
Dupille’s creation for Valley is called “Blue Ribbon Livin'” and he said the main form is based around the idea of a blue ribbon representing the highest values and “best of the best.” It also reflects the community fair that has been a part of Valley for over 80 years.
Within the ribbon design are images representing Valley such as a weathervane Dupille said signifies how important weather is to an agricultural community and features the Valley landscape in the background. There is also a wagon wheel to represent the pioneer community; snowflakes to signify changing seasons; fish swimming through the river; and a hand holding an apple to represent hard work and agricultural living. The piece also incorporates copper elements, etched with barn swallows, to connect to the mining industry of the area.
“Its elements and imagery are reflective of the community of fantastic people and an unbelievable geographic setting,” Dupille said.
He came up with the design following a three-day trip to Valley, once he was chosen for the project, to immerse himself in the community and learn what is most important. After doing more research and “designing more with an eraser than a pencil” the committee only made minor edits to his original design, he said.
Dupille shared the entire process of creating his artwork, which took about four months once the design was finalized, with the Valley student body during the art dedication assembly on April 22, the day after Dupille installed the piece in the Valley school foyer with the volunteer help of Valley School District Facilities Team members Bob Wilkins and Kraig Kalisch. It took 40 hours over the weekend to install the large, three-dimensional sculpture that is 14 feet wide by 10 feet high and weighs about 700 pounds. It is mounted in sections on aluminum, attached with angle iron to plywood, which is then attached to the stone wall of the school entryway. The structure and installation had to be approved by a state engineer before the design could be completed.
To connect the students to the artwork that is now a permanent fixture within their school, and for an opportunity to learn about the process of being a public artist, a volunteer student committee was formed consisting of fifth through eighth grade students and led by art teacher Gail Churape. Just like the actual committee, they created their own criteria, located a site and chose an artist from the state’s roster. Ironically, the students chose Michael Dupille as well.
The students also had an opportunity to learn about fritography and created their own pieces of artwork using glass tiles out of materials donated by Dupille. The Arts Commission also provided a learning “tool kit” and a small stipend to help connect the students to the artwork to be installed in their school.
Furthermore, Churape was inspired to connect the art with the entire student body and initiated a school-wide temporary art project to create a “sand mandala” the day the commissioned artwork was unveiled. The mandala used colored sand from Land Mountain silica, which Churape and her grandson colored over the summer, to emulate the process of frit and apply by spoon onto a design she created on the school softball fields, similar to how Dupille applies the crushed glass to his art.
“It’s been a long time since Valley School participated in an art experience like this; Michael’s art inspired me,” Churape said to the student body during the assembly.
“We are doing this to connect art with our student body, to create something beautiful and show respect to the materials,” she added.
Since it was earth day, the mandala was centered around the world Churape stenciled with ribbons protruding from all angles featuring a space for each student to decorate how they wanted. Dupille even got involved and created his own art within a piece of the mandala as well.
His professionalism, ease of technique, and quality of work did not go unnoticed by the young students creating their art next to him.
Dupille, who developed an interest in art at 7 years old, enjoys the connection to students when creating a piece for a school and also enjoys teaching. At the end of the assembly, he encouraged the students to use their imagination and pursue their dreams in whatever they choose to do in the future.
“Aim high, think big, dream big. It takes discipline, a lot of hard work,” Dupille said.
He told them to read a lot as it broadens their knowledge of the world and helps in his profession where he is not just an artist, but a business owner, engineer and wears many other hats as well.
“It has taken me 50 years to make this piece because of all the lifetime of experience that goes into it,” Dupille said.
There are about 4,500 artworks in the state art collection for Art in Public Places and the art is featured in colleges, universities, state agencies and public schools across Washington. Dupille said he has created seven installation for the collection so far.
During the assembly Rebecca Solverson, project manager for the Art in Public Places program, told the students that it is not a museum collection but more accessible artwork created for everyone to enjoy and representative of the unique communities the pieces becomes a part of. She asked that the students to take care of the art as something for everyone in the school and community, and state, to appreciate for years to come.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Michael Dupille’s “Blue Ribbon Livin’” was created using a fused glass technique called fritography. Kellie Trudeau photo