Face Space

In 1990, Emile Birch, NH sculptor, was the artist in residence. His challenge was to create a sculpture which would be placed at the entrance to the school. Willy Black, art teacher, conducted a contest: “What do you think the sculpture should look like?” Many children responded with a variety of incredible ideas, but finally Valerie Ellman’s (first grader) was chosen.

Mostly, it was the children in grades 3,4, and 5, who worked on the sculpture. And, what a job it was! First they had to create a life sized sketch of the piece. Smith Reed, in a recent interview, said that his daughter Karen, was one of the figures and Ray School PE teacher, Claire Brauch, who attended Ray School, K-5, was a second figure. Claire said, “They were wondering, how the figure should be standing and so I jumped into the air with my arms outstretched, and when I landed in the same position, someone screamed, ‘Hold that!’ I did and they sketched it.” Shirleigh Barnes, Kindergarten Teacher, in a recent interview remembered the third, Dora Kennedy.

The next step was to make a styrofoam mockup which was three inches thick. The kids cut it out using small metal saw blades. Next they had to build a wooden frame around the styrofoam mockup. This was all done in the hallway before the building was renovated, which would have been the hallway that is now near the Ray Cafe.

When the frame was completed, it was brought outdoors. Carroll Concrete arrived and first filled the back of the frame. This took a few days to dry and then the styrofoam was put in so the concrete wouldn’t go where the faces needed to be placed. Carroll returned again and filled in the concrete to the edges. The part the children enjoyed was when the cement pourers used a vibrator, like a big electric mixer, to move the cement to the edges.

After that, the children and staff got to work creating the clay faces. Mrs. Black included the Ray School Bunny in the project. He can be seen at the top of the first panel. After much discussion it was decided to stick with the one blue color. The faces were fired and Mrs. Black and Emile then placed the them in the frame adding small pieces of clay to fill in the spaces between faces. It was like putting together a puzzle. They then took all the faces and the pieces out, and fired everything for the second time, both the faces and the small pieces.

The students glued the faces and pieces to the frame and in spring, a long time from the beginning of the project, Hanover’s town crew arrived to dig two holes to set the frame in. It took a crane to lift and lower the cement piece into place! It was an exciting day.

A contest was held to name the new sculpture. Mr. John Mullens, grade 3 teacher, won when he suggested, “Facespace.” We had just finished the “Play space” construction and Facespace seemed the perfect name.

Emile dropped into the school at least once a week and sometimes more for the whole year. It is probably one of the most photographed spots at the Ray School. Many a child has stood in a silhouette adding his or her shining face and smile to the many faces already adorning the “Facespace.”

June, 2008