At first glance, the new stained glass windows at Hardwick House on the Eagle Hill School campus look like something straight out of a cathedral. As the sun shines through the two-story glass structures, they light up, offering a kaleidoscope of colors -- bright oranges, vibrant shades of red and rich tones of blue.
On closer inspection, however, you'll discover that the windows aren't really stained glass at all. In fact, much of their composition isn't even glass. It's junk mail -- more specifically, the plastic address windows of junk mail envelopes, which had been cut out into thin strips and hand-painted by students at the school, to be carefully affixed to the existing panels of the windows.
The effect created is, quite simply, stunning.
The "stained glass" project was the brainchild of installation artist Wade Kavanagh. Kavanagh was first inspired by the tall windows of Hardwick House when he visited college friend Heather Seymour, who serves on Eagle Hill's dorm staff. Then, as part of a planned Earth Day celebration at the school, he came up with the junk mail idea. It would be part art lesson, part recycling lesson.
To make the project a reality, the entire Eagle Hill community collected more than 4,000 thrown away envelopes with plastic windows. The students then extracted the plastic, cut it into thousands of thin strips, and painted the strips the requisite colors for a mosaic to fill each window. The last part of the process was the messiest -- applying an adhesive to each strip of "glass," which would then be affixed to the windows, according to the sunrise color design on Kavanagh's laptop.
The result was spectacular -- and the Earth Day message was not lost on the students.
"We wanted to reuse all these envelopes and turn them into something interesting," said Eagle Hill student Carolin Schmidt, 13. "Now we look up at the window and say `Wow - look at what we did!'"
"It's really cool," added Eagle Hill student Katie Nelson, 13, who was amazed at what they created from plastic strips salvaged from envelopes from their home waste baskets.
"This is my first environmental project," said Kavanagh, who says his work exhibits "a general awareness of materials that surround us and the different ways we can use them." He hoped the project's Earth Day message would leave students feeling creative and empowered. "That," he said, "is the most important thing."
Mission accomplished, according to Eagle Hill student Liam Miller, 12.
"We can do tons of projects," he says, "to make the earth feel better."