Pierce County student artists help deck the halls at governor’s mansion

Two Pierce County schools are among 13 Washington schools that helped trim this year’s holiday tree at the governor’s mansion.

Students in a jewelry-design class at Graham-Kapowsin High School used sheet metal and crystals to craft ornaments for the tree, while kids at Stafford Elementary in Tacoma employed fused glass, beads, clay and origami paper.

“It’s a true honor to be chosen,” said Graham-Kapowsin career and technical education teacher Jennifer Buckle.

The theme for this year’s tree is birds, and ornaments had to be no larger than the size of an index card. After that, students’ imagination took flight.

Initially, only six schools were sought to contribute ornaments. But response was so strong, the project expanded.

Buckle’s 25 students traced the outlines of a variety of birds onto a metal sheet, then went to work with hand saws to cut the shape of their ornament from each sheet.

The edges of each bird were sanded smooth. Students used additional tools to create feather-like dents and patterns across the bird bodies, then glued on flat-back crystals for eyes. Each ornament had a hole drilled for a string, and students added beads to the string “to finish it off and give it some more glitz,” Buckle said.

The ornament project took three or four class periods. It was also an exercise in recycling.

“We re-purposed materials for this project,” she said, noting that students used sheet metal left over from last year’s classes. Each student sent one ornament to Olympia.

At Stafford, music teacher Sue Bakken sent in her school’s application to participate in the ornament project, which was coordinated by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Stafford is known for its art-infused curriculum, and its students had folded origami paper cranes for the January 2013 re-opening of the Point Defiance Pagoda in Tacoma. So including origami in this Christmas project seemed like a natural choice, Bakken said.

Other birds were made with fused glass. Still others were formed by making paper cranes, then dipping them into clay and firing them to create an outer glaze.

Twenty-five Stafford students and four teachers did the work after school. They sent 25 ornaments to Olympia, but kept some extra to decorate the school’s display cases.

Fourth-grader Leo Brownawell said the best part was “being messy.”

“I liked the glass, because we could cut it with these pincher things,” added classmate Jazmin DeSantiago.

Students at both schools will receive a certificate recognizing their contributions to the mansion tree. The ornaments won’t be returned to them; they will become part of an archived state collection.

“We’re going to be part of history,” Jazmin said.