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Collaborative art installation project takes shape at Whitefish High School

by JULIE ENGLER
Hagadone News Network | September 24, 2023 12:00 AM

Whitefish High School and the Stumptown Art Studio along with several local businesses joined forces three years ago to start work on a large-scale art installation. “The Gear Heads” is located in the public courtyard of the high school.

Stumptown Art Studio Executive Director Melanie Drown said “The Gear Heads” is not a new project and that after a long delay due to the Covid pandemic, the project is nearing completion.

“And then, we will plan a community celebration,” Drown said.

At that time, she plans to recognize and thank all the businesses that made the piece possible.

The work includes two huge, steel heads, one male and one female, looking at one another across a sidewalk while an arch filled with gears passes from the top of one head to the other.

“The gears are a nod to the sharing of knowledge,” Drown said.

She added that early in the planning, “The Gear Heads” was a flat installation until students presented the idea to make it a three-dimensional sculpture.

“It was pretty amazing because the school set up a relationship with Countryside Welding, who did all the fabrication, and we were able to send welding students over to Countryside and the students worked with licensed welders as an apprenticeship,” Drown said. “They were able to actually weld the heads with these expert welders.”

Current Montana State University student Devin Beale was a senior in the Art 3 class at Whitefish High School when he helped with the art project. He said Principal Kerry Drown approached him at the end of his junior year with an idea to create a sculpture that embodied the new STEM-focused buildings and classrooms.

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math and STEM classes put an emphasis on innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking.

“The goal with the artwork is to create an inclusive, binary, and STEM-promoting sculpture that gives students a "gateway" to academic success,” Beale said. “Whitefish High School is known for its outstanding record for performing students and growing STEM programs and facilities.”

Recently, Whitefish began offering two STEM courses, Principles of Biomedical Science, and Human Body Systems.

“We wanted a sculpture that represented that new opportunity, and also gave visitors, locals, students something to look at as an art piece from the art programs in the high school,” Beale added.

After the heads were installed last month, work began on phase two of the project, which is the application of a patina to the steel surfaces. This job falls to students in the Art and Industrial Art classes at Whitefish High School along with Stumptown Art Studio’s Education and Art Director Charity Flowers.

The final phase involves the installation of the steel arch, complete with gears that will be attached by the Industrial Art students prior to the arch going up.

“The most memorable part of the process was being able to work with my peers to come up with creative ways we could develop this project and display it for the community,” said Beale. “It is an honor to be able to represent my hometown high school, and give back the same way it gave to me.”

When the sculpture is finished, a grand unveiling and celebration will take place.

“It's been one of our most amazing collaborations,” Drown said, and compared the grandeur of “The Gear Heads” to that of the “Windows on Whitefish” project, wherein about 360 community members were actively involved with the construction of the mosaic murals along Second Street.

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