The jewelry and metal design elective at Mountlake Terrace High School is one of the school’s most popular electives.
The course is offered as a first-semester or year-long class. The class is supposed to have a maximum of 25 students, but there are usually 30-35, according to teacher Mark Walker, and it usually has an even number of boys and girls.
Most of the students in the class do not have prior experiences in jewelry or metal design. Many thought the class sounded interesting as an art option and thought it was something completely different.
“We all thought it was beading basically,” one student, Claire Kaiyala said. “We were like, ‘yeah beading class’ and Mark was like, ‘let’s set stuff on fire.’”
The class also has a club that meets every Friday and allows the students more time to work on their projects for competition.
A few of the pieces the club members recently finished were going to be in the Seattle Art Fair Show in April, but were eliminated for a technicality.
The students had gotten their sculptures cast in stainless steel. To do this, they needed access to a special facility. Walker works with SeaCast Industries in Marysville. There, the students pieces were cast in air-crafted manufacturing stainless steel. Top of the line, Walker said. Although, one of the rules for the Seattle Art Fair Show it says the pieces must be cast at the school. Even though the students did all other work in the classroom, they didn’t do the metal casting there. That eliminated them.
At the school, students can cast their sculptures in bronze, silver and aluminum. Most of the student will use bronze and plate it, Walker said.
The stainless steel plated pieces were independent projects. Once students finish the first semester of the class and learn the basics, the second semester is very independent. This freedom allows first year students to make large creative pieces.
A freshman, Claire Kaiyala, made a piece her first year and won Best of Show at the Seattle Art Fair Show. One of Kaiyala’s pieces is in New York currently where she will visit this month, she said. She also received the American Vision Award Best of Show at the 2018 Scholastic Art Awards
“It’s insane,” Walker said. “These guys are from another planet, I’ve never had students like this before.”
The class is a Career and Technical Education (CTE) class which is funded separately from General Education classes. Teachers of CTE courses must go to school to get a CTE certificate. This class is funded federally.
CTE’s goal is to get students out of the classroom and into the industry field. It is requirement for CTE classes to have students participate in art shows to teach the students career skills and give them working experiences. It is also required to have the club do fundraisers. Students get a lot of freedom in class, but the club members are working for competition. Each class has at least a couple of art competitions a year such as the Schack Art Show, Edmonds Art Show and Bellevue Art Show.
Not all CTE programs get the same money, Walker said. It depends on the CTE director and what he can do and where he can pull the funds. They initially gave Walker $20,000 to get the class going, and each year he gets a certain amount of money to keep it going, Walker said. The students have an art fee, $80 per year. The art fee pays for the consumables, like wax, gas and glass, but not the equipment.
There are usually five periods of the class and they are adding a sixth next year. Nichole Mohs Baker took Walker’s class twelve years ago. She first came back in March 2017 to help Walker teach the classes.
Walker, who has been at Mountlake Terrace High School for almost 26 years, is taking a technology course this summer. He says he is not good with technology, so anytime the equipment needs programming, the students do it which is good experience.
Technology is also used in the students’ artwork. Baker said, “We’ve been playing with the 3-D printer and seeing how they can make prototypes that way to sculpt on top of for skeletons.”
One of the largest competitions the students worked on this year was the Vans Shoe Competition. Vans Shoe sent a lace-up shoe and a slip-on shoe for them to sculpt around. The students had one month to work on their sculptures.
One of the shoes was plated in stainless steel, the other cast in bronze. They also used resin for the water and made a wax base. Mountlake Terrace High School got into the top 50 out of the 500 schools participating. Unfortunately, they didn’t receive enough online votes to advance, possibly because of a glitch where all votes from the school appeared as coming from the same IP address, so they all didn’t count. Many other schools had the same problem Baker said, so they will try again next year.
Some of the students’ projects were at the Seattle Art Guild show. They were pulled out and sent to the Edmonds Art Show on June 6. The projects will be visible at the Edmonds Art Show, which runs from June 15-17.
When the students aren’t working on larger projects for competition, they do smaller jewelry projects. One of the first projects students have is to make a metal ring. They can also use wax to make charms.
Next year they want to do fundraising, Baker said. They could sell their jewelry at local businesses that do craft fairs. A few of Walker’s friends have jewelers that would take the students work. One thing Walker and Baker want to work on next year is to get some of their jewelry in the shows, because a lot of it is sculptures, Mark said. So, they are working on more details and carving.
The club members used to be very quiet and hardly say anything, Walker said. Now, they are close friends who spend lots of time laughing, talking and doing art together. One of the students said they get their ideas for sculpting from childhood trauma.
“If I would have been like this in high school, I would of never have been here,” Walker said. “Their ideas have nothing to do with me at all. I’m teaching them how to cast, how to work with metal.”
There are always a lot of sounds and smells in the classroom, the club members said. Lots of talking, laughing along with the sounds of the air tools, torches, polishers and glass breaking.
“It smells like art,” said one club member.
–Story and photos by Hannah Horiatis