In a portable classroom slated for demolition, 21 teenagers spend an hour a day breaking glass, smashing ceramic plates and mixing miniature batches of cement in repurposed Cool Whip tubs.
It's an art class taught by Steve Jordan at Liberty High School, and the intricate mosaic projects will hang in Lodi wineries by the end of March.
Wines that win platinum or double gold ratings at the upcoming Consumer Wine Awards, sponsored by the Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club and Diversity Wine Awards, will take home one of the winery-themed student designs as a trophy. Using donated and repurposed supplies, the club has funded the project for under $1,000.
One Rotary member is a self-taught mosaic artist whose pieces have been shown around the country.
Mark Hamilton has created works of art on sidewalks, flower pots and even the bottoms of swimming pools. He was inspired during a trip to the Greek island of Delos, where a 2,000-year-old mosaic floor was still intact.
"What's special about mosaic is that it's permanent. You can touch it, feel it, walk on it," he said.
On Wednesday, he joined the art class at Liberty to check on their progress.
The class is held in a separate portable in an attempt to contain the mess. The room used to contain independent study students before they were moved to another campus. It sat empty and waiting for demolition until is was commandeered by Jordan. The carpet, littered with dust and small bits of glass, is a janitor's nightmare, but the class is a kind of oasis for the students who enjoy the process of destroying something to build something of their own creation.
Each pair was issued a heavy HardieBacker board to plan and outline their design. Students selected colored tiles from bins, and used tile cutters to trim pieces into whatever shapes they imagined. A small dab of thin cement was enough to secure each piece.
Emily McDonald based her design on the vineyards near her home. Blue pieces shone among a green leaf design set over a barrel holding a wine glass and bottle. Sometimes she comes in after school to put in extra time.
"I like mosaic because it's like trying to make a puzzle, to find what piece fits where," she said. McDonald likes the shiny pieces, since they're more reflective.
Two male voices rose in an argument over the proper way to mix cement.
"No, it's not thick enough," said Gary Cary, 17. "It's got to be like cookie dough, the consistency of cookie dough."
Elias DeSantiago, 17, insisted the mix was fine.
"No, it will stick, look," he said, pressing a blue tile into the corner of the design.
Roderigo Ignacio, 18, was nearly done with his project. Only a few gaps remained to fill in with black tiles his class partner was cutting up.
"Perfect, man. This is exactly what I needed," he said.
Art class is one of several electives students can enroll in to make up lost credits on their transcript. Jordan's class has done drawing and shading projects as well, but the mosaic work has gotten the best reviews.
"Kids like it. It's peaceful. It's something to work on with their hands. When they're making art, I see a different kid," he said.
Liberty High School sometimes has a bad reputation, said Jordan, but there's not much gang presence here.
"Kids are here to make up credits and get back to their home schools. To see them going back is even better, to us, than graduating from here. It shows they can get back on track," he said.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.