Where art and geometry meet


Posted: Wednesday, February 08, 2006


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  Mirimia Kuzmin, 4th grade, Voznesenka.

Mirimia Kuzmin, 4th grade, Voznesenka.

In the spirit of M.C. Escher, who created works of repeated shapes, each one snuggly fit to those around it, students from across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District have tried their hand at creating tessellations.

On Friday, their attempts to make these repeated geometric designs that cover a plane without gaps or overlaps can be seen at Mermaid Café. And the artistically and geometrically curious are invited to try making one of these mind-bending designs from materials that will be available.

“The Quest program usually sponsors every year different enrichment events that students can go to,” said Stephanie Zuniga, the Homer facilitator for Quest, a district program serving gifted students in kindergarten through 12th grade. “A lot of gifted programs mostly support academics — reading, writing and math. I wanted to give an opportunity for students who are gifted in other ways to express themselves and participate in something.”

In November, Zuniga distributed to schools packets that described tessellations and explained the rules for a tessellation contest.


Mirimia Kuzmin, 4th grade, Voznesenka.

The word “tessellation” comes from a Latin word meaning the small, square stone or tile used in ancient Roman mosaics. According to contest guidelines,students were to choose a tessellating polygonal shape from those Zuniga included in the packet. Then they were to modify sides of the shape, cutting out pieces and sliding, rotating or mirroring the cut-outs to a corresponding place on the polygonal shape to create a new shape. Next, they were directed to trace that transformed shape several times on a sheet of paper and add details to the interior of the design that suggested a desired design.

What was once a polygon might become a shape resembling a bird. Several of those placed together in snug, jigsaw-puzzle fashion, created a whole flock. Or maybe the result was the outline of a head. Or a fish. Or a lizard.

Maintaining the integrity of the created shapes was crucial, as quilters, who meticulously fit fabric edge to fabric edge, know. Or carpenters, whose measurements must be exact.

Sound complicated? You’re right.


Shape created by Juliet Bramante, 4th grade, Soldotna Montessori, "Doodle Drawing."

“A lot of the kids actually tried to create something, but there’s a lot of crossing over between right and left brain and you almost have to pat your head and rub your belly. What you wanted to turn out to be a horse, well, when you slide pieces around, you create negative space and then that creates shapes you weren’t prepared to create,” Zuniga said. “The kids that tried to plan, that tried to make something found it frustrating. Other kids just did it and then saw what they saw.”

The process was one teachers reinforced by applying to other areas, Zuniga discovered.

“McNeil (Canyon Elementary School) did prints by cutting out sponge-like material and using the shapes to stamp T-shirts. Fireweed (Academy) is putting together a whole kit of materials on tessellations to send to Africa with someone going there to work in an orphanage,” Zuniga said. “These kids got to see a big array of different applications. They’ve taken simple concepts in geometry and art and are applying them to creative designs and taking it further by extending (the process) outside the community, with children teaching children. That’s pretty neat.”

At Mermaid Café, 80 samples of tessellations were viewed for one night only, Friday. The exhibit was the work of students at 12 different schools in second through eighth grade.

Each participating student will receive a ribbon, with awards given to first, second and third place, as well as best in show.

Part of the judging is based on whether the student saw something in the created shape that is unique.

Visitors to the exhibit will see, that could be anything, limited only by the students’ imagination. As Escher once said of his work, “I walk around in mysteries.”

“It gave me an appreciation for Escher’s drawings,” Zuniga said. “I didn’t show (the kids) Escher’s work right away, but afterwards they appreciated how much work it is, too.”

Tessellation challenge results:

Second grade — first place, Shannon Bradford of Soldotna Montessori with “Sea Star”; second place, Brodi Perkins of Connections with “Nine-Eyed Beast”; and third place, Jayce Miller McNeil of Canyon Elementary with “Untitled.”

Third grade — first place, Patrick Latimer of McNeil Canyon Elementary with “Untitled”; second place, Kasey Campbell of Chapman School with “Dolphin City”; and third place (tie), Annie Worsfold of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary with “My Favorite Dragon” and Morgan Kelly of McNeil Canyon Elementary with “Sea Monsters.”

Fourth-grade — first place, Mirimia Kuzmin of Voznesenka School with “A Pride of Lions”; second place, Mario Wettach-Glosser of Fireweed Academy with “Aviator”; and third place (tie), Lily Wills of Fireweed Academy with “Attack of the KBTA” and Ryan Navrot of Chapman School with “Sharks and Limpets.”

Fifth grade — first place, Madeline Mullikin of Fireweed Academy with “Break Dancer Competition”; second place, Alic Konev of Kachemak Selo with “Old Man Piranha”; and third place, Anglica Nolden of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary with “Caribou Vardon.”

Sixth grade — first place, Colin Latimer of McNeil Canyon Elementary with “Mad Old Lady”; second place, Halo Howell of Fireweed Academy with “George Washington Abstract”; and third place (tie), Zinon White of McNeil Canyon Elementary with “Bear's Den” and Alaine Miller of McNeil Canyon Elementary with “Captain Jack Penguin.”

Seventh and eighth grade — first place, Megan Hansen of Nikiski Middle School with “ Flying Man”; second place, James Hutchinson of Chapman School with “The Flying Alligators”; and third place, Kassi Johnson of Nikiski Middle School with “Sea Horse Mania”.

Color tessellations — first place, Annaleah Ernst of Nikiski Northstar Elementary with “Falling Leaves”; second place, Brooke Hughes of Soldotna Elementary with “Styles of Man”; and

third place, Cydney Sprugeon of Nikiski Northstar Elementary with “Tight Toucans”.

Best in Show — Mirimia Kuzmin of Voznesenka School “A Pride of Lions.”

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