Where Are We from, Who Are We and Where Are We Going…
High School, Spring 2013
Artist’s Reflections by J. Kenneth Leap
This spring I participated in a challenging 10-week residency with Cumberland Regional High School. My role was to work with a select group of students, teach them the art of painting on glass and work with them as a team to create an installation for their school. Glass painting is a technique utilized within the context of traditional architectural stained glass. In order for the work created in this residency to have authenticity the committee accepted my proposal to focus on a site specific installation. After touring Cumberland Regional High School the physical space that presented the most potential was the entrance of the Performing Arts Center (PAC). This proved to be a rather grand space and required a large artwork to do it justice. Ultimately 3 transom panels totally 35 square feet were selected to contain the artwork. This put heavy demands on the time and funds allotted to complete the project. We were ultimately successful through careful planning and the extra time put in by the students, the art teaching staff (Betsy Tasker, Darlene Gates and Jennifer Wiley) and myself. Without this commitment to see it through, no matter what, I do not believe we would have completed the panels on time. My initial feeling was to scale down the project to include only one panel but the commitment of the teachers and the promise that the students would continue to work on the panels between our meeting sessions convinced me to move forward. Betsy, Darlene and Jennifer truly served an apprenticeship with me and took on a managerial role in organizing the student work force to bring the project home.
I believe this collaborative effort made the labor worthwhile to all involved. The pride of ownership was evident on the faces of both students and teachers when the panels were unveiled. The students learned some great life lessons as evidenced by their comments to me during our meetings. Repeatedly I heard how privileged they felt to have been involved with the project. They all worked very hard to pull it off. Betsy, Darlene and Jennifer related that they most enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with me in the design process and the addition of the blue Cohansey River was just one of their contributions. There were “ah – ha!” moments on the administrative side as well. Greg McGraw, Supervisor of Curriculum, summed it up best when he related that during the planning meeting he felt put off that the school was “only hiring an artist to design an artwork” but his opinion changed when he saw the level of student involvement and how enthusiastically the students “bought into the project”. I would echo those sentiments as well. At the onset I was concerned how I would handle the design development stage. In preparation for the residency all students in the high school did an oral history interview with their family members to learn about immigrants and cultural traditions of the region. Ultimately I let the content of the artwork be generated directly by the students in relationship to these oral history prompts. I helped with the layout of the final composition but the images came from the students and were rendered with their hands. I served largely as a technical assistant which allowed them achieve success with an unfamiliar medium – one that ordinarily takes years to master. I am very proud to have been involved with this project. The artwork is more than the sum of its parts; it is and will be a legacy and a tribute to the history and folklore of Cumberland County for many, many years.