Glass Art Helps Students Reflect on Kristallnacht

by Laurie Bellet

broken-glass.jpgFriday is sort of my day off, in that I do not have to go to work at school. So, this morning, in preparation for my meetings about town, I even put on nail polish. But, before leaving the house, I grabbed my gardening gloves, a box, and a large scoop. I was going dumpster diving! Upon arriving at my last stop, the auto glass repair shop, my adult daughter (whom many of you know has developmental disabilities) brightened with recognition, “That’s right,” she said, “November means broken glass month!”

Broken glass month, those words are Ariel’s reference to Kristallnacht, the infamous Night of Broken Glass. I am in need of broken glass from automobile windows for mosaic tributes and other creations. Generally, I receive donations of broken safety glass but, my acquaintances have had a fortunate year, no car break-ins and no shattered patio tables from which my supply closet usually, and perhaps perversely, profits.

With Yom HaShoah commemorations in April, recalling Kristallnacht in November has become less common in Jewish schools. It was on November 9, 1938, that Jewish businesses and synagogues were ransacked. Glass from the smashed windows carpeted the sidewalks and streets. That night, 30,000 Jewish men were detained and sent to concentration camps. Significantly, it was on that night that violence against the Jewish population became, if not overtly legal, decriminalized. From that night on, criminal activity, targeted at Jewish citizens, was officially applauded.

Offering students broken safety glass as an art material piques their interest immediately. These irregular, pale green, shapes sparkle. They are a treasure, begging to be discovered. Although it is difficult to cut oneself with this glass, even when shattered, I reserve the art experience for students 5th grade and above. I caution them to focus intently, never to put their hands near their faces after touching the glass, just on the off chance that a glass splinter might be hanging on.

For this extraordinary mosaic, you need only ordinary materials, in addition to the safety glass: mat board (many framing stores will donate their scraps), Tacky Glue, and colored paper (foil paper results in the most outstanding outcome). I begin the lesson with a line study review. Horizontal lines are restful. Vertical lines are strong. Diagonal lines are active. We explore the spiral swirl of a storm and the zig-zag of anger and agitation. We consider the emotions of Kristallnacht by examining photos and brainstorm how actions and feelings can be visually portrayed through shapes and colors. Although there are traditional emotive interpretations for color, I encourage my students to attach their own significance to the colors they select. They will validate their choices when they write their artist statements to conclude the experience.

AC054850.jpgStudents begin by selecting their mat board. Donated mat board might be irregular in shape and of different colors. If you are unable to acquire mat board from frame stores, I recommend purchasing “flaw board” from (product #9726123 – $17.95 for 100 boards; 8” X 10”). Students next cut, or tear, the colored paper and arrange it on the mat board to convey the concept or emotion they intend. Some students need encouragement and reminders that this is not meant to be a realistic, representational piece. My students call this kind of art an “ish” picture, referring to the book Ish by Peter Reynolds. When satisfied with their arrangement, students glue the paper down. They can use ordinary white glue for this purpose. They do not want to use too much glue to do this. The paper should not be soggy. After the paper is glued down, students cover their paper arrangement with glass pieces, securing them with Tacky Glue. I never buy this product in the squeeze bottles; they clog too easily. I buy either jars or the gallon jug and pour the glue into small dishes. Students apply the glue with a plastic knife or a craft stick. Some students will wish to cover only their colored paper arrangement with glass. Others will cover the entire mat board. The Tacky Glue must be under each glass piece; it will dry clear, eventually.

If you wish to complete this experience entirely with glass, you can use glass plates as your base. These plates are for display purposes; work on the front side. Wood plaques offer another base option, as do picture frames, working directly on the glass. One year, a student of mine created a wire sculpture. He shaped a human-ish form from craft wire (~24 gauge) using a spiral line (to convey the idea of being caught in a whirlwind) for the body parts. 80530M.jpgHe embedded his figure in a clay (air dry Crayola clay, which Torah Aura sells in a 2.5-lb tub or as a 25-lb. bulk box) base which he studded, sharply, with the glass pieces. It was a simple, yet sophisticated, stunner of a piece!

I teach my students that their artist statement is their opportunity to discuss their intent and the manner in which they used their art form to convey their emotion, thoughts, or message. The artist statement is not a step by step recounting of their process. It is the artist’s moment to make his/her viewpoint public. With the artist’s statement, the artist becomes a teacher and a commentator. For the classroom teacher, the student artist statement permits focus on the art process. The statement provides critical evidence of understanding, with a force that is frequently not apparent when seeing an individual product. This is especially true when all the student products are similar to one another.

On a final note: The guys at the glass place fell over one another to assist me. I never did get to dig around the dumpster. The glass fellows sorted through the contents of their glass vacuums and filled my box with the best quality car glass they could find!

Yom Huledet Sameach to ‘November birthday’ artist Sir Jacob Epstein. Epstein was a 20th century sculptor and portrait artist. Fascinated by the delicate facial characteristics seen in different ethnic groups, Epstein was considered revolutionary in that he painted “uncommissioned” portraits of people he observed on the street.