A Cut Above

Laser cutter forges the ideal design for Energy in All Directions

One of the many projects Jean Tschanz-Egger, the Head of Design at the Tang Teaching Museum, makes are the titles displayed on the wall at the start of each exhibition at the Tang. Like the exhibitions, each title design is different and crafted to reflect the specific themes in each show. For the new exhibition Energy in All Directions, she faced a unique challenge: How to create a design that reflects an exhibition that brings contemporary art from the Tang collection together in dialogue with objects from the Shaker Museum to celebrate the life and legacy of artist and gallerist Hudson (1950–2014).

Her solution? Combine the past with the cutting-edge.

The past arrived in the archives of Hudson’s gallery, Feature Inc., which opened in the 1984 in Chicago. The gallery’s original homemade letterhead features chunky, hand drawn letters that can look like wood joinery. The letters recall the Shaker craftsmanship on view in the exhibition that includes tables, chairs, cabinets, a walker and a wheelchair, all made of wood.

The cutting-edge came thanks to the IdeaLab: The Skidmore College Makerspace. Darren Prodger, IdeaLab’s manager, introduced Tschanz-Egger to one of the makerspace’s newest pieces of high-tech equipment: a Glowforge Plus laser cutter.

“I’m so happy to collaborate with the Tang Museum to make this design idea a reality,” Prodger said. “It’s a great example of how creative thought can take physical form here in the IdeaLab for students, faculty, and now the Tang. The only limit is your imagination.”

Tang Dayton Director Ian Berry agreed, “This is unlike any other wall text you will see anywhere! It is a perfect example of the exponential power of collaboration, a hallmark of Skidmore’s interdisciplinary spirt and something that the missions of the IdeaLab and the Tang share. I love the possibilities that open up when we work together to share expertise and ideas across campus.”

The IdeaLab purchased the laser cutter about two months ago as an upgrade from an older, more “industrial” style laser. The new, versatile Glowforge Plus uses a thin laser beam to etch or cut materials such as wood, Plexiglas or mylar with precision.

“This semester we’ve had several of Professor Shirley Smith’s Italian classes here working on our 3D printers as well as with the Glowforge,” Prodger said. “Students were able design a box, learn the Glowforge software, prepare the wood, cut and engrave the pieces, and assemble their boxes within an hour. We’re hoping to be able to work with more departments on similar projects in the future.”

Once Tschanz-Egger uploaded her design file into the Glowforge online interface, input the correct settings, and loaded a thin, one-square-foot piece of wood into the Glowforge, she hit a button to downloaded her file and for the laser-cutting to begin.

Ninety minutes, and 11 pieces of wood later, Tschanz-Egger had 22 custom, laser-cut letters.

Today, those letters are now affixed to the museum’s wall, welcoming campus into the exhibition Energy in All Directions.

A close up of the wall saying "Energy in All Directions"
Installation view of the title treatment of “Energy in All Directions”
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