When I was about thirty years old I went to Las Vegas with my good friend, Chris, and his brother. It was my first time visiting this town (and I must admit, I’ve never returned), and I had zero knowledge about hotels of this scale: gambling, shows, and what happens in Vegas. I was so naive. I even brought my sleeping bag attached to my backpack because I was planning to crash out on the floor. Didn’t know you could just ask for a cot or an extra bed. We stayed at New York, New York, but I spent all my time in the Bellagio. And the reason for this – I loved the ceiling.
I went there when it first opened, when it was such a bright alternative to Ceasar’s Palace. It is famous for the fountain outside, but I loved what was inside, right there in the lobby.
(photo courtesy of https://kalsteine.deviantart.com/art/Las-Vegas-Bellagio-Lobby-266257694)
It wasn’t until I started teaching art that I learned who made this art installation. Dale Chihuly is an artist from Seattle, Washington. According to Wikipedia, “His works are considered to possess outstanding artistic merit in the field of blown glass, “moving it into the realm of large-scale sculpture.”
I think it would be hard enough to produce one of these pieces, much less what he does. Huge pieces of glasswork hung from high places. All overlapping. Oh my. I find his work mesmerizing and I remember feeling like I had walked into a fairy tale land of sorts. Quite different from the Vegas goings on around me, which really didn’t interest me in the first place.
I saw a lesson you could do with your kids involving Sharpie Markers and Shrinky-Dinx on YouTube. I really wanted to do this, but alas, couldn’t get Shrinky-Dinx shipped into my camp in time to make this happen. So, I opted for what I could find. Tons of coffee filters.
Beginning with a lesson on radial symmetry, students used markers to make designs on their filters. Then I took each filter, sprayed them with water and let them dry in a cup, giving them a conal type shape. For some, I experimented with spray-on starch or liquid starch. I would recommend using liquid starch because they made the colors more vibrant and the cone was stiffer than the water sprayed ones.
After all my filters were shaped and dry, I got to work attaching them to the chicken wire. This was super-time consuming. I hung the chicken wire from the ceiling. I started to sew the filters to the wire, but the paper just ripped right up, so I switched to taping them on with masking tape.
My goals was to put all these filters up on the ceiling in the hallway, so students could walk under it and experience what I did at the Bellagio. Unfortunately, due to fire safety codes on our camp, the only way I could do this was to construct this 18 inches away from the ceiling. This would include the lights I planned to put behind the filters as well. I tried to do this, but it looked awful. The ceiling is pretty low and you could easily see the lights and the side of the display. Didn’t like it at all. Fortuately, my two hallmates, Pete and Kellan helped me brainstorm other ways to hang it. Just by a fluke, I let one side drop and the chicken wire looped around itself, almost like a cocoon. Pete suggested I put lights inside of the cocoon and let the whole thing hang.
I like it. The fun thing about this installation is that kids can still go up to it and look into it, around it and underneath it. There are exposed parts so you can see all that’s happening.
The kids love it. I love it. I was afraid it would be destroyed within days. It’s pretty fragile, the masking tape keeps coming off and parts keep dropping off onto the floor. But so far, it’s held up for the year. No one touches it, but they love walking up to it and examining all the colorful pieces together.
I still want to make one with Shrinky-Dinx. I have seen a Chihuly inspired art installation made out of plastic water bottles cut into strips, painted and then sewn together. That may be fun in another part of our school. Onward.