Art from the heart: Ordway students create lasting memorial for departed teacher

Four hundred Ordway students teamed with professional glass artists to create a memorial at the school for Suzy Peters, a beloved teacher who passed away in late 2011.  - Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review
Four hundred Ordway students teamed with professional glass artists to create a memorial at the school for Suzy Peters, a beloved teacher who passed away in late 2011.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / Bainbridge Island Review

Small hands with the help of huge hearts have created a touching memorial at Ordway Elementary.

In the hallway outside the main office, a glass-tiled, mosaic mural created by 400 students pays a lasting tribute to a beloved third-grade teacher at the school who died in mid-September 2011.

“Two falls ago, we lost our dear teacher Suzy Peters. As a staff, we wanted to do something special to remember her,” said Julia Graves, a second-grade teacher at Ordway.

The staff decided to team up with the Bainbridge Island Arts & Humanities Council for an Arts in Education Consortium project.

The undertaking quickly grew, and in a little but big way.

“We wanted to include all of the children in the school, from kindergarten through fourth grade,” Graves recalled.

The school tapped the expertise of Mesolini Glass Studio.

Diane Bonciolini and Gregg Mesmer from the studio met with Ordway staff to explore the possibilities of the memorial artwork.

Teachers wanted to get everyone involved — and that meant 400 students.

“We came up with the idea that children would work in pairs and do art tiles,” Graves recalled. “We wanted something that would incorporate all the kids. It ended up getting to be kind of big.”

Things near and dear to Peters were chosen as the icons to be pictured.

“Kindergarteners did the sun; they did small glass pieces that made suns on the background of a cloudy white tile,” Graves recalled. First-graders decorated their tiles with little faces, second-graders made birds, and third- and fourth-graders did sunflowers.

“Suzy loved sunflowers,” Graves said. “Her room, for many, many years, was out in the portable and she would plant sunflowers all around.”

Ordway students would come back for class in the fall and find the sunflowers waiting for them.

Mesolini Glass, of course, is no stranger to such high-profile projects.

The studio has done other noteworthy art endeavors in island schools; the fused glass mural at Ordway, with fourth-graders; the fifth-grader self-portrait mural that was displayed on an outside wall at the old Wilkes elementary, a six-screen tile project at Blakely, and an artwork done by eighth-grade students at Woodward Middle School.

The studio artists met with Ordway students to talk about their tiles, and as an Arts in Education Consortium project, the effort was filled with teaching moments for the kids, from the history of glass, to the scientific principles of how glass becomes a liquid, to fused glass basics and collage designs.

“I loved working with the kids and getting them to experience working with glass; it’s a medium most haven’t touched before,” Bonciolini said.

“The teachers prepared them really well,” she said. “They came in, they knew what was going on. They had done their drawings and decided how they were going to do their icons.”

Some students, and staff, were initially a bit skeptical of how their sketches would translate into tiles.

The finished artwork drew raves.

“They’re really taken by the softness and the tactile feel of a fused glass tile that has texture, but yet they can run their fingers over it,” Bonciolini said.

The project came to a quick close after the aluminum frames for the tiles arrived.

“Then all of a sudden, things started rolling really fast,” Graves said.

The walls had to be painted first, however.

“Our staff just rallied. Within probably 36 hours, the paint was chosen, it was OK’d by our facilities person,” she said.

Over the span of a long weekend, the walls were painted, and the artists came in and glued the tiles onto the frame

“It finished just as the children were arriving on the 23rd. And it was precious,” Graves said.

Bonciolini recalled how some of the Ordway staff were moved to tears when they saw the finished mosaic, and the eagerness of the kids to touch the mural as they pass by the artwork every day.

“It just makes it so worthwhile when you hear the words come from their mouths how much they appreciated it, what they learned and how excited they were,” Bonciolini said.

The school is now getting ready for a dedication of the mural. A ceremony is planned for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 5 at the school and the public is invited.


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