Two dozen art students from Sisters Middle School art classes walked to town Thursday for a colorful tour through four galleries on Hood Avenue. First, they gathered in front of Sisters Gallery & Frame Shop. Dividing into small groups, they alternated among the galleries for a different experience in each location. For some, it was their very first opportunity to visit an art gallery and meet with working artists.

At Sisters Gallery & Frame Shop, small groups cut glass petals under the expert supervision of fused glass artist Mel Archer. It was hands-on all the way. Archer brought his worktable, panels of bright yellow glass, safety glasses and glasscutters. He also brought samples of finished work so the students could picture what they were about to create.

After a firm lesson on how to handle the glass and the tools, the young artists donned goggles, and with little trepidation, zipped the cutting wheels across the glass surface. When properly executed, the motion of the wheel on glass sounds exactly like a zipper. Then, “Crack!” they carefully split the glass pieces, right along the zip line.

During the afternoon, Archer’s toolbox filled with golden glass petals that he will fuse into a glass portrait of sunflowers for the class.

“They loved the opportunity to touch the raw material of glass and look forward to seeing its final product,” said Sisters Middle School art instructor Judy Fuentes.

Archer thoroughly enjoyed the exercise, even saying that he might have missed his calling as a teacher.

Meanwhile on the sidewalk, small groups sat in the sunshine, mesmerized as artist Paul Bennett created loose watercolor sketches of their attentive faces. Bennett talked about art, the paint he was using, and his career as an artist. As the portraits came to life, he answered random questions. When he finished, the students ooohed and aahed over the results as they recognized themselves.

Simultaneously, other small groups visited Hood Avenue Art Gallery, The Clearwater Gallery, and Wildflower Studio.

At Clearwater Gallery & Framing, artist and owner Dan Rickards asked each student in the small group to choose their favorite painting from the walls, and discuss why. One of the students picked out a particular landscape, recognizing that it was painted with palette knife, and said it was a favorite because the class worked on a large palette-knife painting last year. That prompted them to ask Fuentes if they could do another one this year.

“The invitation to share their favorite painting and why supports the work we do in class,” Fuentes said. “For students who struggle to have a specific style, it offers them some comfort.”

At Wildflower Studio, artist and picture-framer Chris Nelson explained the importance of framing, and showed the students the components of a custom picture frame, including dry mount, mattes, frame, and glass.

“Learning about the matting and presentation process certainly aids them in the presentation of their own work,” Fuentes said. “It was interesting for them to see that artists really think about this.”

The students met printmaker Gin Laughery at Hood Avenue Art.

“I did enjoy working with the seventh- and eighth-graders,” Laughery said “They were interested in various art mediums, and their questions were thoughtful. It’s a great group of positive, engaged students.”

This is the second year that a student tour of local art galleries was organized by the Sisters Arts Association, Fuentes, and this writer, who is the manager of Sisters Gallery and Frame Shop. The art tour program also has the support of Sisters Folk Festival’s Americana Project and several volunteer parent chaperones.