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Benches for the birds

2011-04-28T00:08:00Z 2011-04-28T00:57:34Z Benches for the birdsBy MARGA LINCOLN, Independent Record Helena Independent Record
April 28, 2011 12:08 am  • 

Birds, beauty and abundant learning abounded last Monday in Capital High School’s art room.

Fourth graders from Kessler School joined students in Capital High’s Design Application Academy to create concrete benches for a new bird sanctuary at Kessler School.

How many students does it take to make an artistic bird bench?

On Monday, it was seven.

But altogether, nearly 50 Kessler students and 35 Capital High art students have been working together to build six benches, starting last November.

These aren’t just any benches. Here art, form, function and science meet in the concrete.

Monday found two high school sophomores — Rylee Mathews and Danni Hamper — scooping plastic bowls of wet concrete from large industrial buckets and handing them off to Kessler fourth graders — Jack Bennett, Lilly Cloninger, Amy Thompson and Braden Watson — who poured the wet stuff into a large, oval mold. Helping them to smooth the concrete and then add rebar and chicken wire were sophomore Karlissa Skinner and Capital High art teacher Genevieve Anderson,

Before the concrete pouring began, glass mosaics of birds, butterflies and flowers had been affixed in place along the bottom and sides of the mold.

Once the concrete hardens and is removed from the mold, the mosaics will emerge bold and bright, embedded in the top surface and sides of the bench top.

Today’s bench is Assorted Birds, decorated with images of a kingfisher, dove and hummingbird.

Drying nearby is a Waterfowl bench, created a few hours earlier by other Kessler students and members of Ingrid Jayne’s Design Application class.

There are finished bench tops, as well: Upland Birds sports a grouse and pheasant exploding into flight; and Birds of Prey, shows a flashy red-tailed hawk and soaring bald eagle. There are also benches decorated with Perching Birds and Woodpeckers.

The bench project took wing last November, when local avian enthusiast and artist Jane Beasley spoke about Montana birds with the students in the two Capital High School Design Application classes. The art students then honed in on their bird of choice to turn into a glass mosaic.

“I think it’s kind of challenging to make the birds,” said Mathews. “But to see how they turned out is really cool.”

Hamper agreed, “It was pretty hard starting out and cutting the pieces; and making them look like a bird was hard, but I think they turned out really nice.”

It became Skinner’s favorite art unit. “We had to cut out the glass and grind it down,” she said. “We had the little kids here and helped them make flowers and butterflies. That was really fun. We helped them make their designs and that was really creative.”

In addition to the glass-cutting challenges, there were other problems to deal with, as well. Local artist Jon Cowie came up with a way to secure the bench tops to their concrete bases, using long, bolt-like metal rods. While Capital High junior Kris Kahl built the jigs and drying racks needed.

Although Anderson has made benches with her art students previous years, these ones are special.

“I really like to coordinate what my students do in class with something in the community,” she said, “something that’s important that people are going to appreciate.”

“The stained glass unit is always a hit,” said art teacher Jaynes. But the students really liked adding their glasswork to the benches. “It’s art you can use instead of just look at.”

The Kessler students were happy, as well.

“I think they’re really cool,” said fourth-grader Thompson, of the benches.“I liked this project because I like to get dirty.”

“It’s nice to spend time with kids who are older than you,” she added. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

The final stage takes place this spring, when the benches are installed at Kessler School, and students get to perch on their beautiful handiwork.

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Marga Lincoln covers entertainment news for the Independent Record. Send story ideas for YourTime to, or please call 447-4083 or 447-4074. Follow Marga at @IR_MargaLincoln.

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