Alice in Wonderland and Technology in Kenmore West High School

Sculptor Bridgette Mongeon shares the process and her first digital design of the Mad Hatter Tea Party that she is making into a monumental bronze sculpture.

Last week I returned to my hometown in Western New York, searching for familiarities of crunchy colored leaves, chestnuts, and savoring tastes of Concord grapes. Amid the streets and on the deep porches I hear voices of childhood that fill my heart.

I feel sorry for those who can’t “go home” and experience this. One can return home many times, but returning to your high school as a featured presenter gave me that curious feeling that Alice must have had as she jumped down the rabbit hole.
Someone commented on a picture that I snapped and posted of the halls of Kenmore West High School, “Looks like a scene from Alice in Wonderland.” This comment seems very fitting as at this point in my career as an artist, for my reputation is growing with Alice.
I have been commissioned to create a monumental sculpture of Alice In Wonderlands Mad Hatter Tea Party. It has been a milestone few months as articles are coming out of Italy about my project, and I’m receiving emails from Prague and China, and last week an article was printed in French. If jumping down that rabbit hole was not exciting enough, my first solo book 3D Technology in Fine Art and Craft: Exploring 3D Printing, Scanning, Sculpting and Milling came out just days before my visit. While in Buffalo, I discovered my book has been a number one new release on Amazon over the last few months in a few different categories.
I use much of the same technology that I wrote about in the book to creating Alice and her friends. In fact, I’m pushing the use of those technologies to new heights as I plan on making this Alice project my next book project.
I didn’t want just to visit Kenmore West. My hopes were to inspire the students. My career and life are typically interdisciplinary. I am a sculptor but, as I describe in my book, the technology that I use, is used also by many different areas such as science, architecture, engineering, industrial design and more. It is interesting, I would not consider myself a “math” person, but indirectly I work with math every day in the underlying geometry of my work. I knew my lecture would be cross-disciplinary. 3d Technology does that. Also, the sculpture is the art component and with Alice, the lecture even includes a twist of literature. I desire to promote these interdisciplinary studies in education.  I was glad to see that  Superintendent is Dawn Mirand could see these possibilities.

The students of Kenmore West made me feel at home.

I also had ulterior motives in my return to Ken West. I have had such great milestones in my life. There have been terrific accomplishments, from sculpting entertainers like B. B. King to being commissioned to create a sculpture of Neil Armstrong for Russia. I graduated with one of the first MFA degrees that incorporated digital technology in Fine art. I have been contributing author on several books, the co-author on Digital Sculpting with Mudbox: Essential Tools and Techniques for Artists
and now flying solo with 3D Technology In Fine Art and Craft, and have four new books including a novel the works. I have spoken at large prestigious conferences in technology and education, but the one life accomplishment I cannot claim is that I never graduated from Kenmore West. One day I will use the details of that part of my life in a young adult novel. But for reasons beyond my control, I left Ken West in 10th grade, a high school drop out, and cannot “officially” call it “my home.” Though, as of this trip, I am adopting it as my own. I shared a smidgen of that story with the kids, including how the adults at Ken West were stellar in their help in that very difficult part of my life. I figure students are talked at enough in school, I hope that my story can somehow give them courage and fortitude in their difficulties. I wish I could have focused more on options, and opportunities- in my lecture instead of just talking about technology but that is a different lecture entirely.
In my life as a professional, I embrace helping others to follow their passion and look for ways to help. A motivational speaker for those in the arts, taking on interns and apprentices and recently creating a long distance mentoring program for students are a few of the ways I satisfy that desire to help. It seemed only fitting that I create a special opportunity for some of the students of Kenmore West. This is how Dave Rigolski, my host and the art and technology teacher at Kenmore West and I accomplished that.

Students of Kenmore West share in the process of creating a tea cup for the Alice in Wonderland Bronze Sculpture Project. Sculptor Bridgette Mongeon shares her Grandmother’s tea cup with a miniature 3D Printed version of the cup as the girls think about recreating it in Mudbox.

In the scene of the Hatter’s tea party, I will need tea cups. I had planned on 3d scanning my grandmother’s tea ups, 3D printing them, enhancing the cups if necessary and using them in the scene. Mr. Rigolski’s class is working with 3D sculpting and 3D printing. I sent him a digital file of a teacup with the challenge to the students to help me recreate the cup to put in the bronze sculpture. Three students seem to have taken on the challenge. I’m happy to say they are all young women. I’m very passionate and supportive of tech girls!
I was thrilled that the maker space Buffalo Lab in The Foundry sent Rob Peters  to assist the school with the 3D files. This entire project is a true collaboration.
I’ll be talking more about the students progress in up and coming posts and on also on the finding Alice’s sculpture Facebook page where I am documenting the project. .
If my visit was not exciting enough, another important element for me in this engagement was the book dedication.

My book dedication states:
I would like to dedicate this book to those many pioneers who have gone before me and encouraged individuals to merge traditional and digital technologies to create incredible fine artwork.

I’d also like to dedicate this book to Mike de la Flor, who said,
“Maybe you should look at digital sculpting.”

To Debbie Lloyd, who is one of my favorite art teachers. And to all of
the art teachers who spend countless hours sharing their passion and being advocates for learners, especially those who break new ground with new tools and techniques.

Sculptor/Author Bridgette Mongeon a former student of Kenmore West presents her book to Debbie Lloyd her high school art teacher of Kenmore West and good friend. Bridgette dedicated the book to Debbie and others.

Debbie Lloyd was my art teacher at Kenmore West, she went on to be one of my closest friends, and we still see each other upon my returns to Buffalo. She was also one of those stellar individuals that helped me through that difficult time. I was so proud to present her with the book at the lecture. She had no idea. I only cried one tear or two maybe, but I held it together.

Signing a book for your high school library is a surreal experience.

I also donated a book to the library of Kenmore West, I also donated a book to the Kenmore Library as well as the North Tonawanda Library. To my delight, the Albright-Knox where I first was exposed to art as a child also received my book in their collection.

The Kenmore West Librarian’s receive the donation of Bridgette’s book into their collection.

After the lecture, some of the students examined the 3D prints that I brought to show. I visited them in their computer lab and saw their excitement over learning Mudbox.
It was a delightful and incredible experience with Ken West. I do hope there are other opportunities to help in the future.
From my lecture at Penn State to my visit with Kenmore West and Buffalo Lab it was an exciting and rewarding journey to the North. I can’t wait to see the final tea cup from a Kenmore west student and place it in the scene.
My hope is that one day one of my bronzes will be in my home town, until that time, I hope my books and visit inspire others, and I’ll be looking for other ways to share.

Thanks also to:

Kenmore West Art Teachers Amy Veltri, Patti Wallace and Darryl Swanson for introducing themselves and their students.  Keep up the good work! The book is also dedicated to you.


A recent article from the Ken Ton Bee
If you want to see what the Alice project is all about, check out this video.

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