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Hal Shaw uses the college's mascot for an ingenious art project featuring panthers

PHOTO COURTESY OF PCC - Hal Shaw poses with the panthers masks he created as part of an art class at Portland Community College

By James Hill

For the Newberg Graphic

There isn't a technique or artistic medium that Hal Shaw isn't interested in trying. From mixed media to spray paint to sculpting with wood or plaster, the Newberg native wants to experiment with all of them, which made the art student a natural for Crystal Schenk's "Sculpture: Metals" class at the Sylvania Campus of Portland Community College.

Schenk is known for her willingness to research and explore techniques to help students achieve their visions.

"We wanted to learn something no one in the class had ever done before," Shaw said. "Ms. Schenk encouraged me to learn how to anodize, because none of us knew how to do that. And she helped my sculptures turn out better than I had hoped for."

Shaw, 19, created a series of panther heads bearing a striking resemblance to PCC's popular mascot, Poppie the Panther. Why panthers or this kind of artwork? Shaw's Mexican heritage provided the inspiration.PHOTO COURTESY OF PCC - Hal Shaw, 19, has created a series of panther heads bearing a striking resemblance to PCC's popular mascot, Poppie the Panther.

"I go to Mexico to visit my family and I saw sculptures that inspired the panther heads," Shaw said. "I was intrigued by the shape of the panther heads and began to research them."

Shaw attributes the design to two influences: small replicas of helmets that the Aztecs wore into battle and alebrijes sold by craftspeople in Mexico. Alebrijes are brightly-colored Mexican sculptures of fantasy/mythical creatures. Made for nearly 100 years, alebrijes were originally created and named by Pedro Linares, whose fevered nightmare inspired Shaw to create brilliant, fantastical folk art.

To create the heads, Shaw used investment casting, a process that started with a wooden statue. Shaw made a mold of the statue with silicone caulk, then filled the caulk mold with wax. In order to make a mold that can withstand molten metal, Shaw repeatedly dipped the wax sculpture into a thick, soupy plaster liquid that is resistant to heat. Then the wax is melted out of the plaster mold, leaving a void perfect for melted metal.

When the metal cools, Shaw breaks open the molds to retrieve the metal pieces. Some of the sculptures are left rough, while others are polished. The bronze sculptures are given a patina with copper sulfate and ferric nitrate, after which they are coated in wax to seal them.

Meanwhile, Shaw placed the aluminum sculptures in a bucket of sulfuric acid and attached it to a car battery. The action of turning on the car sends a current through the piece, allowing color to bond to the metal. It takes an hour of soaking in the dye bath for the color to be fully bonded. Shaw then sands the teeth and eyes with a grinder for contrast and puts it in boiling water to seal the dye.

In addition to the panthers, Shaw also made a bronze bunny and an aluminum wolf for the class.

Shaw is earning enough credits to transfer to a university, in addition to working toward a certificate in Java programming with the hope of becoming a video game designer, fusing a passion for art with technology.

It wasn't all about PCC in the beginning for Shaw. Raised in Brush Prairie, Wash., Shaw graduated from Jesuit High School and enrolled in a local art college. The experience didn't click and Shaw took a break before bouncing between PCC and four-year colleges. Finally, Shaw focused on art and programming with the support of instructors like Schenk.

"I needed more motivation and confidence and teachers like Ms. Schenk, who recognize that things are not always as they look," Shaw said.

Schenk said the panther heads started off as a skill-building exercise where students learned to make silicone molds of objects. From there, Shaw ran with it.

Schenk added that Shaw has taken the metal sculpture class three times now, "and it has been great to watch (the) progress in both … ideas and skills. Hal has been extremely driven and hard working – learning metal casting and now welding. (The) dedication to the class, willingness to explore avenues of creativity, and experiment with techniques is something all teachers hope for and is inspiring to fellow students."

Arts & Leisure briefs

Got a sweet tooth? The CCC has the class for you

The Chehalem Cultural Center will stage "Intro to Chocolate Making: Truffles & Bark" from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday for all skill levels.

Chef Ellen Rodriguez Orocio will instruct on making chocolates using a polycarbonate mold and employ various techniques to create bon-bons, hand-dipped truffles and chocolate bark. Students will leave with about four dozen chocolate creations

The class is $15 and students should bring a chef's knife, containers, a water bottle and apron.

For more information, call the CCC at 503-487-6883 or visit

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