Nancy O'Neil
Maria Baldwin School

Title: Untitled
Date: 1996
Materials: Stained glass
Dimensions: Eight windows, 21" x 30" each
Location: 28 Sacramento Street

Seeing and experiencing

Open the doors of the Maria Baldwin School, turn the corner, and look up the stairs. You'll see a pair of stained-glass windows on each staircase landing. Artist Nancy O'Neil envisioned that "[the windows] will bring in wonderful color and pattern during the day for everyone using the stairs, and will be glowing beacons seen from outside at night."

Look carefully at each panel of glass. What shapes appear throughout? Each panel has many parts. Are they the same for each window?

When you look at the text and images, do you think that the artist had help from the school's students?

One of the definitions of "kaleidoscopic" is "having lots of different facets." O'Neil's windows are full of ideas - as many facets as a kaleidoscope. Most of the images represent specific ideas. Focus on a few images. What ideas do they represent? Do any stand for science?

Go on a treasure hunt. Look for:

  • Maria Baldwin, former principal of this school and one of the first African American principals in the country
  • Map of old Cambridge
  • Celestial map from 1776
  • Tree
  • Algonquin wampum belt
  • Astrolabe (an ancient instrument used to measure altitudes of heavenly bodies)
  • Computer image of patterns representing chaos
  • Map showing the northeastern United States attached to Africa
  • Architect's blueprint of a door
  • 1640 Cambridge map showing a stockade
  • Tracks of local animal species

What three words appear on each of the windows? These words appear in several different languages. How many languages can you identify? Why did O'Neil choose to represent these specific cultures?


What you will need:
Sketchpad or paper, pens or pencil.

Each of O'Neil's stained-glass pieces tells a story. Make a list of ideas that you think are central to each panel. Do any of the panels share ideas? Do certain symbols or shapes appear in more than one piece? Sketch these shapes.



What you will need:
Plexiglas (any size although O'Neil's windows are approximately 21" x 30"), colored see-through thin plastic (should be sticky on one side), scissors, permanent markers, acrylic paint, paper (tracing paper, construction paper and tissue), Mylar, glue.

For centuries, artists have used stained glass to make an environment more inviting. Churches and other spiritual places have relied on stained glass to add an inspirational and ethereal presence.

Make your own stained "glass." Cut shapes out of the papers and see-through plastic. Glue or stick these shapes to your Plexiglas plate. Overlap the tissue papers to get different colors. Experiment with adding acrylic, watercolor or tempera paint. Use the permanent marker to draw objects or words.

Once the piece has dried, tape it to a window and watch the light come through, casting shadows and colors on the opposite wall. What materials can you see through and what materials are opaque (don't let the light pass through)? Can you see through the tissue paper? The construction paper?

What you will need:
Paper towel or toilet paper roll, clear contact paper, glitter, paper shapes, small beads, confetti, construction paper, masking tape, clear tape, plastic wrap

If Nancy O'Neil's stained-glass windows were at the end of a kaleidoscope the colors would change with the turn of the wheel. Words and images would shift and collide.

Build your own kaleidoscope. Trace the end of the roll on the clear contact paper and cut out the circle. Peel the backing off the contact paper and lay it down with the sticky surface face up. Stick a variety of materials (glitter, confetti, colored bits of paper, beads) on its surface. Cut out another circle from the contact paper. Make sure it's a little bigger around than the first circle. Place the sticky side on top of the other sticky circle (you will be "sandwiching" the glitter, beads, etc. between the two circles). Flip the whole "sandwich" over. Some sticky surface should remain around the perimeter. Carefully place the tube onto the outer ring of sticky stuff and seal the contact paper to the sides of the tube.

Now that you've constructed your kaleidoscope, test it out! Look through the end and turn it. Aim it at light. What do you see? Does your view change as you move the tube?