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Montessori students show gallery of glass works as culmination of creative course

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Caroline Driscoll, 13, of Sewickley, a seventh-grader at Montessori Children's Community, shows Sam and Ellie Bridarolli, both 4, of Franklin Park a few of glass artist Jeff Phelp's pieces during a glass art gallery open house held at the school Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Phelps taught Montessori middle school students how to fuse glass during a six-week long class. Student pieces also were on display during the event.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
A few of glass artist Jeff Phelp's pieces on display during a glass art gallery open house held at Montessori Children's Community in Sewickley Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Phelps taught Montessori middle school students how to fuse glass during a six-week long class. Student pieces also were on display during the event.

As Hadley Driscoll of Sewickley showed off pieces of glass art she spent six weeks creating, she said the few small cuts she got on her hands were worth the result.

“I was willing to get a minor cut to make a beautiful piece of art,” said Hadley, a Montessori Children's Community seventh-grade student.

Her creations were part of a one-day exhibit last week in the Sewickley school. Hadley, along with her twin sister, Caroline, and fellow seventh-graders Ben McLemore of McCandless and Josh Holland of Sewickley, transformed their classroom into a glass art gallery with help from their instructor and glass artist Jeff Phelps of Edgeworth.

Each student displayed three glass bowls, a coaster and other small creations and explained the making of each piece to parents and friends who visited the gallery. Phelps also had his artwork on display.

The gallery was the culmination of the middle-schoolers' first six-week creative expression unit. Students met with Phelps for three hours once a week to study the history of Pittsburgh glass and learn how to make glass art objects.

Phelps, originally from Arizona — where he studied graphic design at University of Arizona — said he basically taught himself to work with contemporary stained glass after a 1976 request from his mother to create windows for her.

From there, he ended up doing commission work. In 1987 he enrolled at Pilchuck Glass School in Washington. Phelps has shown and sold his work all over the country, including at International Images Ltd. and House of Two Sisters, formerly in Sewickley.

He has taught the craft, but said this was the first time he has taught students so young.

“They did really well,” he said.

For the first week, they met at Montessori, students learned technical information and got a brief overview of the glass-making process. Phelps brought in a small kiln.

The next five weeks' classes were spent in Phelps' home studio, where students learned how to crush, cut, fuse, layer and slump (mold) using stained glass.

“It was an amazing experience for the students,” said Katanya Cathcart, Montessori middle school teacher.

“Not many people get to have that kind of personal lesson.”

The study of the history of glass and learning how to make glass objects were part of Montessori's middle school philosophies — creative expression connected with pedagogy of place, a principal involving studying local history, environment, people and resources.

The four students make up the first middle school class taught in the Sewickley school.

Throughout the year, other six-week lessons will be planned.

Josh said he liked just about everything about making glass art.

“I liked seeing how to do. It was harder than I thought. I didn't think there were so many different steps,” he said.

He said he was surprised to learn about Pittsburgh's history in the glass-making industry.

“When people talk about Pittsburgh, they always talk about steel. We learned that glass predates steel,” he said.

Hadley said she might want to make more, too, but it depends on what else she learns about that she might enjoy in the upcoming six-week lessons.

“I'm excited to see what's next,” she said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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