Students team up for Mule sculptures
October 5, 2017
On September 26, an art project started by Wahkiakum High School students in Sue Garn's art class in the spring was completed with an installation at the highway entrance to the school.
The whole project was an act of collaboration, not only between students learning and implementing different skills in different classes, but a collaboration between students and two generous businesses from Longview.
The idea started small. One day while watching her students work on an assignment last spring, Garn realized they weren't particularly inspired, so she asked them to set their current project aside and begin drawing the school mascot, a mule.
As time passed and the students enthusiasm returned, her mind began to marinate on another idea, inspired by the Cow Parade, in which artists submitted designs for the exterior of life size fiberglass cows that would stand in 79 cities throughout the world.
Maybe the students could make their mules bigger. Maybe they could display them.
Garn approached Kyle Hurley, the vocational/agricultural teacher, about fabricating the mules and he expressed a willingness to get involved. It was another opportunity for his students to learn and practice new skills.
Three students in Kyle Hurley's Career and Technical Education Program (CTE) deferred their own work to take on the art project. Taking the designs from art students, juniors Zach Johnston, Michael Martin, and Robert Will developed a 2D online scan and transferred 14 drawings to a computerized plasma cutter to fabricate the metal mules.
The shapes drawn by art students were enlarged in the process, and mules were cut from the 4x4 squares of metal. Students then used welding skills learned in the CTE program to attach mounting brackets.
Last June, the 14 art students whose designs that had been selected for the project, painted their newly fabricated mules and Garn approached the school board about installing them near the entrance to the school.
They were thrilled.
She'd also approached Lowe's and Sherwin Williams in Longview about supplies. That door opened wider than she could have imagined.
Shaina Devlin of Sherwin Williams donated primer, paint, brushes, rollers, and trays for the project. Alan Byrnes, general manager at the Longview Lowe's donated all the supplies for installation, including cement, rebar, and sleeves for the cement.
He also brought a team of volunteers from Lowe's to work with students, staff, and community volunteers when the artwork was installed last Tuesday.
John C. Thomas Middle School sixth through eighth grade students got in on the project too when Paul Lawrence, who teaches architecture, saw an opportunity to apply some of the skills his students had already learned in class last Tuesday. They joined students from Hurley's class, as well as volunteers Myron and Robert Will, and their father Jason.
"We appreciated being included in this project as it provided the kids great hands-on experience," Lawrence said. "They helped the high school class cast foundation piles to support the mule sculptures. They mixed concrete, helped in setting out, cutting, and aligning formwork. They lugged bags of cement mix and pails of water to provide the mix, and they poured the concrete into the forms. They also supported the sculptures and made them level."
CTE students Johnston and Martin were excited to see the installation completed, but admitted they will be glad to get back to their own projects.
"When we first saw the concept last spring," the two said, "we were a bit skeptical because we were unsure of the vision. But now looking at them here on the hill, they look great, and we are proud to have worked with the art department, because our efforts will be displayed here for years to come."
Garn was pleased with the outcome.
"This public art installation represents whimsical and charming mule characters invented by Wahkiakum art students," Garn said. "Our hope is that the community will enjoy them for years to come."