Decorating the Capitol

Decorating the Capitol

Students involved with RISD’s Project Open Door (POD) – a remarkable program that provides arts education for urban teens from underserved communities – recently received a bit of stately recognition. They were invited to create ornaments for this year’sNational Christmas Tree display – a luminous holiday celebration held in the nation’s capitol – and their beautiful baubles are now hanging from a healthy evergreen tree in President’s Park.

It’s a real honor to be invited to participate in the prestigious celebration. Each year members of the National Parks Foundation allow only one exceptional arts organization from each state to submit ornaments that capture the spirit of their home.

Jenn Hercman MA 12, an Angell Fellow who manages the program, couldn’t be more thrilled about the honor. Students who participate in Project Open Door work with artists from the RISD community to create amazing studio work – making them ideal candidates for the national project.“We have a really exceptional program affiliated with a premiere art school. It’s a model of public engagement,” Hercman notes. “This is an amazing opportunity to show what our students can do.”

Christina Miles MAT 11, who serves as the associate director of the program, spearheaded the project. After giving the assignment some thought, she ultimately decided to design a stained glass ornament in the shape of a sailboat, imagining that the simple glassware would be a lovely complement to the green branches. Furthermore, Miles thought the miniature sea vessels would be a fitting representation of Rhode Island – especially because the protective casing of the ornament resembles a bottle.“I thought it would make a wonderful design,” she explains. “And it would be easy to make since there aren’t many pieces to it.”

After the arts instructor sketched out a simple blueprint for her students to follow, a group of 15 volunteers began making the ornaments in POD’s main studio. Miles was amazed to see how quickly the space was transformed into an efficient work space. “All of a sudden the area turned into a glass studio,” she explains.

Before the students could complete the ornaments, Miles gave them a crash course in soldering – a necessary step in stained glass production. Working with the utmost care, the crafty teens took turns grinding the multicolored pieces of glass and then fused them together using hot irons. “They could have been severely burned,” she explains. “But they had respect for the materials and respect for each other.”

Amy Lagunas, a junior in the class who attends Shea High School in Pawtucket, RI, got very involved in the process. After becoming quickly enamored with the pastel hues of the stained glass shards, she proceeded to shape, grind and fuse her own piece of glass art. “She made a point to cut each piece herself,” Miles explains. “She took ownership of the project.”

The students’ hard work yielded charming results. “There’s something really elegant about [the ornaments],” Miles explains. “They all catch the light so beautifully.” But in addition to learning the basics of stained glass production, she says the students were thrilled to have their work displayed in a national forum – a first for every one of the young artists.

“There was immediate excitement to know that they were contributing to something larger,” Miles explains. “The students understood that these little pieces of art made in a basement studio in Providence have a meaning. They’re representing something bigger than just us.”– Abigail Crocker

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