Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931 · THE DUGWAY CHRONICLES - Hazardous Duty
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earth map wire sculpture, wire wall art by wire sculptor elizabeth berrien
Laugh, cry and shriek as we follow the adventures of Rachel Jensen, intrepid art teacher on a remote military base, as she introduces a truly devilish student body to Innovative Wire Sculpture - and the students invent hair-raisingly hazardous uses for wire!

This ongoing blog will report Rachel's correspondence with wire sculptor Elizabeth Berrien.
Desperate! | Monster Mash | Angela Speaks | HAZARDS! | Post-Mortem | Shaping | Back to Top |

January 29, 2007 - TOTALLY DESPERATE!!!


I need some help here VERY BADLY. I am a high school teacher who has been catapulted into teaching art in a unbelievably remote school on a military base. Here are my problems. A) I am not an ART teacher, but I do love art. B) The teacher who taught these classes retired early, I was the only person within 50 miles who can teach and didn't already have a job. He taught leatherwork and wood carving and took all of the tools for these art projects with him because they were his own. Leaving me with 18 kind of wild 8th graders with NO SUPPLIES for art. c) My budget is tight because we are half way though the year and money has already gone to what it was needed for at the start of the year.

Luckily I live on a cattle ranch. We have miles and miles of wire I can scrounge up.. . .baling wire that is. I am really a welding teacher but that was 10 years ago and I cant remember a whole lot about details after having 3 kids and being a stay at home mom. Anyways, my students are good kids, but they need some structure. We can do wire art but I need help on how do I introduce this? What are simple things I can do with them and how do I work into more complex things. Can we even do this with baling wire? What are rules we need to follow.

Thanks A TON
Rachel Jensen
Dugway High School.

Dear Rachel,

Don't panic, I'll do what I can to help - because there can only be one possible Dugway High School, right? Plopped in the middle of the Dugway Proving Ground, nearest hamlet for a wild Saturday night - Tooele? My family lived at Dugway in 1957 while Dad did some meteorolocal work for the government. I was in second grade, my oldest sister went to the high school - and we loved the way the wild horses came to graze the bright green school lawns at dusk.

I have month-end deadlines today, but here's a start: my lesson plan at http://www.wirelady.com/berrienwireteachpage.html Have the kids CAREFULLY chop the baling wire into 12-inch lengths for the three-wire exercise in the lesson plan. As they demonstrate more control over the wire, let them have more pieces of the wire, and gradually extend the lenths of pieces - maybe to 15", 18", etc as the kids develop a sense for proximity and safety.

Until you have an unlimited supply of wire, encourage the kids to make airy, open-work wire sculptures with lots of "negative space" between the lines. One kid doing a round-and-round-wrap-it-up sculpture can consume an otherwise cheap three-pound roll of tie wire in an afternoon - keep it airy until someone shows a reason to do otherwise.

So you're not an art teacher? Big deal - neither am I, really - I just know what I like, and I'm not bound by rules of how things are "supposed" to work. Frankly, you'll probably get more creativity out of your kids than the teachers with too much art training!

Finest regards,

Elizabeth Berrien

Yup! Thats us. Dugway, Utah. In the middle of nowhere. It seems the wild mustangs are all gone and now the base is overrun with antelope and deer.

THANK YOU!! for your help.

-K- so give them all three pieces of wire in 12 inch sections. They can cut it and reconnect it as many times as they want? If yes, do we need pliers for this or do I encourage them to figure out how to reconnect it with their own hands. I need this project to take at least a couple weeks. So what are the different methods I can do here?

I can just see a few of my troublemaker kids scrunching up the three pieces of wire and saying "OK, Im done." I need some more structure. There are about 6 kids in this class that have split personalities as monsters. If I dont have something for them to do every second of my class period, their evil moster sides come out.

I am about two weeks away from starting wire art, but it's coming fast. Should I have them start by bending their name in a completely connected way? Or each letter free standing? I really like your point about no wood blocks. Let me know when you get a sec. No pressure, Ive got some time before we hit this. Thanks Again!!
Rachel Jensen
Desperate! | Monster Mash | Angela Speaks | HAZARDS! | Post-Mortem | Shaping | Back to Top |

February 6, 2007 - THE MONSTER MASH

Ooookay.... here goes.

I'd bunch the kids around tables, with perhaps one pair of wire cutters per table. I'd keep pliers away if possible, or the kids may think they can't shape without them - crutch effect. Let the kids cut as much as they want - they'll find out real fast that it's harder to re-connect than it is to cut.

A couple years back I worked with a class that had more than its share of "monsters" personalities. So I challenged them to make monsters out of wire - bugs, snakes, bats, sharks, dinosaurs, gargoyles etc. It was so fun in spite of my apprehensions (I'd been warned about them ahead of time) I pretended not to notice the table-full of "worst offenders" conspiring... hunched together so I couldn't see what they were doing... sniggering a lot - they sent the who 45 minutes pooling their wire - (gasp) CHEATING - to collaboratively create the opposite of monster - a hummingbird feeding nectar from a flower.

Talk about blown away! I made much of them, hailed their creative problem solving, made sure their feet didn't touch the ground as they walked out at end of session.

So there IS hope. I alway single out the "ringleader" types, the ones who make the most noise out of "I can't do this", and say, "With YOUR imagination, I bet we're about to see something that's never been done before!

Since you have tons & tons of wire, after they make something worth keeping out of their 3 wire exercise, give them another 3 wires... reinforce extra-good behavior by upgrading to 4 wires, 5 wires, etc.

making the letters of their names is a good start. Even now, I get frustrated trying to link letters together as I wire. So if the adventurous ones want to try it, let them, and give them praise for the effort... but let everyone else wrassle with the wire at their own comfort level.

By now, you've probably cooked up more questions - send them by!


-K- So I found a guy that is hopefully going to get me some telephone wire. I found a piece on my lawn last week. (we had some house additions this summer) Its WAY FUN! Hopefully we can get some of that stuff.

So-let them cut to their hearts content.. .right. They will learn not to cut so much. But if they do cut and want to reconnect, is there a method? Or do they just reconnect by wrapping it around as tight as their fingers can get it?

How do I explain keeping the project light and airy? I can just see these kids making aball....taaadaaa!

Do I give them a theme or is this really a free for all do what your "creative self" tells you to?

I feel like I need some structure to this wire unit. (Things in motion, or animals or something)

Can you help me come up with a few ideas that I can lay out for the kids like:

Do your name completley connected. or
Do something in motion that includes:
- Wires twisted?
- A certain number of wires?
- A looped wire?

What guidelines can I include that is structural here? Am I being totally too restrictive? Should I just let them go and dont worry about structure or steps to this. ? ? So, The only thing I give is 3 wires of 12" and then as they do something excellent give them more wires for another project or do they keep building on the one that was the 3 wire one ? ? Ive got a few kids that I can just see wadding up the wire into a ball and saying done. . .and insisting that their project IS art?

What is art anyways? I would be willing to accept a wadded ball, but doesnt it need to take some time and thought.

Sorry Im so full of questions here. Im still kind of floundering at this art teacher stuff although I am SOOOO passionate about teaching art. I LOVE IT!!

Thanks for you time and thoughts so VERY MUCH.

Rachel Jensen

Desperate! | Monster Mash | Angela Speaks | HAZARDS! | Post-Mortem | Shaping | Back to Top |

February 29, 2007 - ANGELA HOOK SPEAKS!

Hello, its that desperate art teacher out in Utah again. Now I have TONS of wire. I have a parent that works for the phone company and he brought me like 50 feet of huge underground phone wire that has 100 wonderful, colorful strands per foot. Now. . how in the world do I keep all this wire organized? Any good ideas?


Rachel Jensen

P.S. I still havent heard back from [wire forum]. Im sure they will respond to me soon. Thanks Again

Rachel gave Elizabeth permission to circulate their correspondence among other wireworkers, in hopes of garnering more advice for Rachel's unique situation. Angela Hook, a Canadian wire sculptor who conducts workshops, lent some great advice:

Whether you get the telephone wire or just use tie wire... some of these ideas may help...

I like to start a wire class by asking the kids where they see or use wire in their lives every day. Ask them how they think wire is made. Get them talking and thinking about wire. Each with a single piece to start with... what happens if you bend your wire back and forth too much? etc.

Then I explain that learning to 'draw with wire' is much the same as learning to draw on paper... you start out with little chicken scratches, then you work on practice projects to learn basic techniques (like a coloring book), then you are able to use your skills to create your own original creations!

Usually, I like to ask the class to create a face with their wire. That's all I say. Inevitably, they all make a 2-dimensional representation of a human head... two eyes, nose, mouth, flat on the table. The fun part is when you walk around the room and bend all of the noses out into the third dimension.

This is where the magic of wire really comes to life! When they realize that they are not stuck to the table anymore... that 'space' is their new canvas.

If your class happens to be in the morning, it's always fun to get those groggy adolescents to recreate their breakfast out of wire. It gets them talking and experimenting with the wire in many different ways. You do not construct a piece of toast the same way as a bowl of cocoa puffs!

This summer I had a group of kids animate a short story with me using wire. The results can be seen in a short video I put together for them on my website. This was a fantastic way for everyone to participate (some more than others!) and they have something pretty cool to show for it in the end.

So, yeah... visit http://www.wireinspire.com/fun.html (scroll down to see the video).

Best of luck with your class!

_________________ Angela Hook
H2Okay Creative
Let the Wire Inspire!
Desperate! | Monster Mash | Angela Speaks | HAZARDS! | Post-Mortem | Shaping | Back to Top |

April 4, 2007 - HAZARDOUS DUTY!

Rachel, how'd it go?

Elizabeth Berrien

OHHHHH! I am still very undecided on if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I had some amaizing creativity from about 6 or 7 of the kids. THe other 10 were their typical devilish selves. The good students made some really fun sculptures of crazy things and others made very artsy replica type things. The bad ones did things like wire whipping eachother, stealing wire from my classroom and wiring doors shut around the school. Some even had fun making trip wires on doorways around the school and other VERY creative yet undesirable things.

I loved the unit becuase it made them think in three dimension. I loved that it was FREE and I don't have much of a budget. About 5 days into the unit I made everyone stop wire art and I attempted to cement the idea into their heads that we can do art the fun way (wire art) or the not so fun way (textbook work-art history). The deal was that until everyone could behave for ONE solid day, we would not do anything other than bookwork. The second day, of course, I rewarded the good students with wire art, but my bad students did bookwork for the next two weeks solid. They have moved on to another teacher with the end of the term now.

I have a new bunch of 7th graders now that have a similar devilish reputation. However, I think the difference will be "me" in the overall sucess of the wire art unit. I have had these kids for two weeks now but the first day they walked in my rooom I was the strictest, meanest, most horrible teacher you could imagine. I went over rules after rules and then the consequences. We discussed manners and expected behavior. I think I now have these students in my back pocket.

I am a VERY fun, laid back, go with the flow type person. I have a very flexible classroom. I am excited to see how these seventh graders do with wire art now that I have established some VERY STRICT guidelines. So . .YES I am going to do wire art again. I did really have fun with it. I think restructuring my teaching style will help immensly though. I am excited to see what these kids can do when I EXPECT their best at whatever they are doing.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR HELP! You rescued a floundering teacher and now I have confidence in wire art and a budget to show for donations. Thanks

Rachel Jensen


Rachel has alerted us to hitherto unknown hazards of wire sculpture. To avoid these difficulties in future wire sculpture classes, follow these safety tips:

Closely supervise all students working with wire. Students who do not demonstrate the ability to work calmly and safely with wire should be redirected immediately to a more conventional art form.

The teacher, or another mature and responsible person, should pre-cut wires to short lengths prior to distributing among students for use in projects. Students should not be permitted access to longer lengths until they have demonstrated consistently safe and responsible behavior with shorter lengths.
Desperate! | Monster Mash | Angela Speaks | HAZARDS! | Post-Mortem | Shaping | Back to Top |

April 10, 2007 - POST-MORTEM

Dear Rachel,

Wow. You didn't exaggerate about the devilish side of teaching wire sculpture... I laughed and whimpered all the way through your account! Glad you learned some "tough love" skills as well - 2 weeks of art history is about as rough (but legal!) a treatment as I can think of!

Your experiences made my hair stand on end - I've never heard of wire being used as extremely as your pack did. This info should be added to my lesson plan - to warn other teachers of undiscovered hazards, etc. As I update and expand the WireLady website, may I add your account if I only use your initials and refer to your location as a "remote rural area?"

I should also confess a personal agenda - it's all very, very funny and I'm sure other battle-weary teachers would love to hear it! I hope you're keeping some sort of journal; if you survive the Dugway experience, you'll have the makings of a best-selling novel.

Do stay in touch - I've really enjoyed our correspondence and would enjoy brainstorming on all aspects of creativity and my ongoing hobby, animal training, which also applies to humans and even schoolkids. Hint: find a book called "Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor...

Warmest regards,


THANK YOU, AHhhh (sigh of relief) Its nice to hear that I could help other teachers learn as I forge a new path into the unknown world of wire art out on Dugway. Oh my gosh, I am really not joking about how absolutley HORRIBLE these 8th graders are. You would think that being on a military base, behavior would be completely opposite. It seems that most of the people out here are contracted employees. These kids move from school to school much more often than they should. Our school counselor has been here for 18 years and he says he has never seen a group of kids this bad. The new group I have now, like I mentioned earlier, have a similar reputation. They seem a bit more creative though. I am excited to see what they can do with wire.

YES YES, you can use whatever you like from my experiences on your website. You can even put my name. Im not worried about it, do whatever you like. I am going to try to find a copy of that book "Dont Shoot the Dog". It sounds like something I could really use at this point. Ill let you know what happens with this group for sure. I seriously doubt I will have such excitement (if that is what its called ha ha.) We wont start the wire unit for another month. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Thanks A Bunch and I'll keep in touch

Rachel Jensen

Hi Angela - just browsed your website - it looks crispy, professional and beautiful! Are you really making jewelry? Can't wait to see it - I don't make jewelry to sell, but like to dabble up something now and then for myself or my family. Here's a wire jewelry forum I enjoy - http://forums.wirejewelryintl.org/tool/mb/wjaintl Good people, great resources!

Remember Rachel Jensen, the school teacher who asked for advice on teaching wire sculpture? Her adventures are involved enough that I'd like to set up a "Dugway Chronicles" blog for her within my website WireLady.com. Rachel wasn't able to access you advice at the Telegraph, so I copied & mailed it to her - it was very useful. I'd love to include it in the Chronicles, along with a bit about you and a link to your website. May I have your permission to do so?

Hope all is well with you, I'd love to hear bout your projects!

Warmest regards,

Elizabeth Berrien

Hi Liz,

I was rolling on the floor laughing when I got to the part about the whipping and trip wires! Geeze...teachers really don't get enough credit, do they? Well, I'm glad Rachel made it through and is willing to try it again... Good sport. You may certainly use my advice, etc.. I love sharing!

Thanks for the jewelry link... I have a batch of rings and earrings needing to go in for gold plating right now... They keep getting bumped to the bottom of my priority list, though.

My daughter is having a dance art fundraiser next month, which I have become the event coordinator of, by default! That seems to be consuming me lately. I even whipped up a website for it! (http://members.shaw.ca/h2okay/artofdance.html) and have been teaching myself how to paint again! Fun, fun, fun!

Anyway, great to chat with you. Hope you're having a fantastic spring!

Take care,


Note from Ray B., A retired teacher who once led charter school students in repairing, rebuilding and restoring a vintage bike..

"I really enjoyed the Utah teacher's adventures--reminded me of my own times when the kids ran wild with spray paint--more on them than the bike parts!"
Desperate! | Monster Mash | Angela Speaks | HAZARDS! | Post-Mortem | Shaping | Back to Top |

April 11, 2007 - SHAPING UP!

Dear Rachel,

How about "sculpting" and shaping your students' behavior?

This just came in today, an essay on "The Shape of Shaping" by Karen Pryor, the godmother of operant conditioning (aka "clicker training" and author of "Don't Shoot the Dog". Here's another link that shows how even a goldfish can be trained to swim through a hoop, follow a target, even swim backwards... I have a DVD on how to clicker-train a chicken... and the five-year-old across the road uses it to train his own chicken!

The idea is, if even goldfish and chickens can be trained through positive conditioning, so can people - even rowdy school kids. Learn about TAGTeach

Have fun,

LESSON PLAN - Teach Innovative Wire Sculpture

World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

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