Merrimack High School Stained Glass Club produces works of art available for purchase
Friday, March 14, 2014
While we, as parents, have told our kids again and again not to touch broken glass, Carolyn Rordam, art teacher at Merrimack High School very happily tells her students to play with all the broken glass they want.
Rordam teaches glass work art classes and supervises the high school’s Stained Glass Club – a group in its third year that consists of about 15 creative and dedicated students who meet on Thursday afternoons year-round.
Most of the students in the afterschool club have taken Rordam’s glass art class and then decided they wanted to do and explore more with the medium.
The students use three methods when working with glass, which include the traditional stained glass or copper foil technique where each bit of glass is wrapped with a copper ribbon that is then soldered together creating a picture of the smaller pieces.
They also make pressed glass where glass is heated up in the classroom kiln and then molded to a form, and finally, they create cast glass where a mold is filled up with large chunks of glass that are then fused.
The club is structured so that the older students mentor the younger ones. They learn to share, discuss various options and try new techniques. It’s an open studio atmosphere where you’ll often hear one student making suggestions to another as they work side-by-side.
In addition to working on smaller projects that are sold at craft fairs and online with the money going toward supplies, the club is also responsible for the large glass windows located on the catwalk windows.
Each year, the club gets to decide what the theme of that year’s window will be. Previous themes have been, “Symbols of Life,” “Joy of Living,” and “Earth, Water, Fire, Air.”
“It’s a very democratic process,” Rordam said. “The kids get to make suggestions and come up with the design.”
This year’s theme is “Nocturnal, Diurnal” and will display various animal and plant life during the day and night. Each student will be able to design and create a tile in the window.
Each of the three previous windows line the catwalk, creating a stunning gallery of art for the students on their way to classes. A spot is open for the fourth piece to be placed when finished.
“Working with glass teaches the students focus and problem solving,” said Rordam, who then went on to explain that glass can be a very unpredictable working material. “You can cut it and it might act crazy and not at all how you expected. It makes you very aware of actions and reactions.”
Working with glass is safe, the students wear protective clothing and pay attention. This is not to say, though, that there aren’t a few bumps and cuts here and there, in fact when Rordam started teaching glass techniques years ago, she ordered a pack of 1,500 Band-Aids.
“It’s almost time to order another pack,” she said admitting that, ironically, it was she who ended up getting the most severe cut of the club, which required stitches when she was moving a large piece of glass that shifted.
Some of the club students have used their time to create pieces that have been submitted to art shows. Kate Gagney, a junior, created a piece called “Fox,” which has won a Gold Key award in the Scholastic Statewide Art show. “Fox” now goes on to the national competition.
“Working with glass is a life-long hobby,” said Rordam, who first worked at Joppa Glass as a bead designer. “All you need are the basic tools and some ventilation and you could be working with glass in your garage.”
Rordam truly immerses herself the life of glass, as her husband, who is the owner and operator of Joppa Glass Designs and makes equipment for glass blowers around the world.
The Glass Club members have taken field trips to some glassworks sites. One time, Rordam took the kids to her studio in Warner, she sat down with them and taught them how to makes beads.
A high point of the trip was when a student turned to her and said, “This is great, this is the first time I’ve really learned something.”
Rordam smiles when she recalls that trip.
“It’s amazing to work with these kids,” said Rordam, who says that she enjoys seeing her students outside of the classroom where “they blossom, are genuine and are nice to each other.”
And it’s not just kids who are interested in learning how to work with glass. Over the years there have been many requests for glass working adult education courses. Rordam said she would love to teach those but she simply doesn’t have the space to store the projects from week to week in her classroom.
Rordam’s future plan for her classes and the club is to obtain a torch. A torch is a special flame heating device which uses oxygen and propane that is used primarily for lamp work.
Ideally, the club is hoping to obtain three of these special torches, which cost approximately $900 each.
To raise funds, the club sells some of their pieces, like the luminaries and stained glass decorations.
Anyone interested in purchasing a piece or donating to the torch effort should contact Rordam at Carolyn.