October 24, 2017
Atholton’s very first permanent ceramic installation art piece is finally here. The much anticipated Gates of Achievement, now on display by the auditorium ticket booth, honors a selection of influential historical figures, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Steve Jobs to Gandhi.
“Everything kind of lined up four years ago with me visiting my old high school and seeing this ceramic thing outside my old art studio,” said Mr. Decker. “What I saw at my old high school was something I would be proud of at my school, so I wanted to do a ceramic installation [at Atholton].”
The inspiration came when Mr. Decker went on a trip to Italy. The Gates of Achievement portrays the important people and events of the 19th and 20th century, based on Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. The pair of gilded doors shows scenes from the Old Testament, while Atholton’s Gates of Achievement show recent achievements.
“We went to Florence, where I finally got to see the Baptistery with The Gates of Paradise on it. We were talking about it in class and our advanced students said, ‘Why don’t we make one of those?’ and I was like ‘That’s a great idea.’”
Art III and IV classes have worked on The Gates for the past three-and-a-half-years but the project was finalized and installed this summer by the Howard County Carpentry Department.
At Atholton, the art department wasn’t alone in their endeavor. The Bright Minds Foundation and tech department provided some essential tools.
“The Bright Minds Foundation came in and said that they were giving grant scholarships to individuals that combined technology into their classrooms,” said Mr. Decker. “At the same time I was talking to Mr. Cannon, Mr. Roache, and Mrs. Fregeau about their 3D printer. I was looking up 3D scanners at the same time and everything just lined up perfectly.”
During the process, members of the Atholton community chose figures to be represented on The Gates of Achievement through a series of surveys and meetings.
“Students, faculty, and alumni generated a huge list of people and events.” said Mr. Decker. “Then we put that list up onto a SurveyMonkey. When we had the numbers down we put the smaller list onto another SurveyMonkey. I kept myself distant from it because I wanted to make sure that the selection process was as real as possible.”
Mr. Decker held an in-class competition to create designs for the different events that would be on The Gates. The staff then voted again for which designs were the best for each event.
The piece was primarily made by a combination of sculpting and 3D printing by the art students. Since it was difficult to sculpt a lifelike figure with no reference, the students could find people that looked like the famous figures they were doing and 3D scan them. They would then have a copy they could digitally manipulate. After they were done, the copy could be 3D printed, which was pinned with clay and painted.
“I created Dr. Martin Luther King. I created a clay figure of him and then we got it 3D scanned and everything,” said Iseaiah Vennable, a former Art III student. ”I think the Gates of Achievement turned out really well.”
Senior Tim Gowen said, “I dressed up as Charles Dickens, and then I got 3D scanned for it, because I apparently look like Charles Dickens. One of my friends worked on The Gates and I thought they did a pretty good job on it.”
Atholton students returning to school after summer break noticed the piece, and the response is overwhelmingly positive.
“It looks pretty cool,” senior Ethan Young said. “I like the idea of putting up the achievements as an art project. The size and gold color are pretty nice too.”
Paul VonBuhr, another senior, said, “I like the idea of honoring the achievements of the twentieth century, Steve Jobs is probably my favorite because I couldn’t live without my iPhone.”
The Gates of Achievement was a long project that took the efforts of the whole Atholton community to come together and help create it. With Mr. Decker’s long-term project finished, what other plans are there for the art department?
“I want to get into mosaics,” said Mr. Decker. “I want to get with large ceramic mosaics, that can decorate the courtyards, to give the school a little more life.”
Whatever comes from these ideas or future ones, The Gates of Achievement will not only be a standing testament honoring the great figures of the 20th century, but also a testament to the talent and unity of the Atholton community.