Amid the gloom and uncertainty of the 2020 coronavirus year, glass artist Stirling Webb of Moonshine Glass had an inspiration. This graduation for high school seniors was going to be disappointing in scale and scope. So why not give these students something special to celebrate their persistence amid social distancing, vanished sports, an obliterated prom, and a school year fraught with uncertainty.
His idea: to present each senior, and each faculty member of the three high schools in our county with a tangible memento of their school and mascot. For Joseph, an Eagle feather. For Wallowa, a Cougar paw. For Enterprise, an Outlaw cowboy hat. Webb presented the idea to school principals who gave him a somewhat guarded thumbs-up to pursue the idea, he said.
For support, Webb turned first to the Enterprise Animal hospital, the veterinarians who’ve helped his wife, Emily Bright, with the Humane Society kittens she fosters. “They said ‘yes’, as long as I had some other sponsors,” Webb said. Armed with a positive response, he approached the Center for Wellness, the staff of Winding Waters Community Health Center, Main Street Motors, and Wallowa County Grain Growers. “The all said yes, and they were all enthusiastic,” Webb said.
Only then did it occur to Webb that he had zip, zero, zilch idea how to make a cowboy hat out of glass.
“Jake (Kurtz) and I talked about it for awhile, and we came up with some ideas,” Webb said. “Most of the good ones were Jake’s.”
Kurtz is a glass artist who also works at Moonshine Glass, and was instrumental getting Webb started in glasswork.
The complicated process of making a cowboy hat involved several gathers of molten glass from a 2000 degree F furnace, rolling the hot glass in pigments to provide the colors and patterns that would appear, blowing the glass to create the opening in the hat’s crown, spinning the hat “like pizza dough,” Webb said, in another slightly cooler “glory hole” furnace to make the brim, adding a colored hatband, and finally, shaping the brim as the glass began to cool. All together, each hat took more than 15 minutes from start to finish—a process that allowed for no pauses or corrections.
Each hat is unique. Some are broad-brimmed, some a more narrow “cattleman” style. There are hats in Beaver colors and others in Duck colors, blue hats, red hats, tan hats, and yellow ones. Ones with fancy silver trim on the brim and others with a silvery hatband. Most are traditional cowboy style rather than Vaquero/buckaroo. “That’s pretty much what the outlaws seemed to wear,” Webb said. “And that’s what the Outlaw logo shows.” 90 glass Outlaw hats in all, for the Outlaw seniors and faculty members.
The Cougar paws were a bit easier to concoct. Again, Webb and Kurtz had to develop the multi-stage process from scratch, as there’s no history or instructions in glass art for producing a Cougar paw. They first created a flat paw pad, and then built the paw on top. Webb used metal frames to shape each toe and each pad. He’s making a total of 50—ten for the seniors, and the rest for staff and faculty.
The Joseph Eagle feathers will be a bit more delicate, and involve more attention to elongating, shaping and providing details in each feather. Like the Outlaw hats and Cougar paws, there will be multiple colors and patterns, shapes and sizes, and each feather will be an individual, handcrafted work of art. Because Joseph’s graduation is not until June 2, Webb will be making the Eagle feathers last: 13 for the seniors, and 37 for the staff and faculty.
For Webb, and for Kurtz, it’s been a labor of love and also an inspiring example of a community supporting its schools and youths.
“I really wanted students to realize they were special, to feel good about graduation this year, and to know that every cloud has a silver lining,” Webb said. “It’s a great thing to be part of.”