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Mobiles reflect ASL as 'visual language'

Gail Dahlberg steadies the hollow pipe while Cynthia Weitzel blows some air through it to inflate the glass. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor1 / 5
Cynthia Weitzel turns the pipe so that gravity will help shape the glass creation before it cools and hardens. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor2 / 5
Artist Cynthia Weitzel inserts molten glass on the end of a pipe into the 2,200-degree “glory hole” to keep it malleable while it is shaped. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor3 / 5
The glass piece is transferred from the hollow pipe held by Cynthia Weitzel to a “punti” pole held by Gaily Dahlberg. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor4 / 5
Anderson Center glassblower Gail Dahlberg dips the molten glass into small chips of colored glass to create hues in the finished product, while protégé Cynthia Weitzel watches and learns. Their project is part of the 2018 Deaf residency at the Anderson Center. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor5 / 5

Three local artists are collaborating to create Cynthia Weitzel's newest project — two prototype sculptural mobiles that meld blown glass and welded steel into new works of Deaf art.

Weitzel is working with Gail Dahlberg, a glassblower at the Anderson Center, and Dave "Curly" Clark of Curly's Welding.

"It's a prototype of what I hope to add to my portfolio as a new line of work," Weitzel said. She also has a growing interest in public art.

One segment of the mobile will be made up of 40 to 50 hand shapes, each representing a common hand shape or "classifier" that is part of American Sign Language grammar, she said. They are not specific words or numbers, but relate to ASL, the native language of many Deaf people.

Weitzel provided shapes to Clark, who cut them out of steel. The shapes will be powder-coated in vibrant, solid colors.

Counterbalancing the hanging hand shapes will be a large hand-blown disc with the appearance of a glass eye. "The iris will be part green, brown, hazel and blue," she said, "to represent everyone."

Similar in style to mobiles by sculptor Alexander Calder, they will be suspended from the ceiling, "a subtle balance of form and color that move with the flow of air," Weitzel said.

At the same time, she added, "it will loosely reference the value and relationship of the eyes and hands in Deaf culture, and also highlight ASL as a visual language that conveys meaning through space, movement and expression — a language that is also very physical, engaging, poetic and graceful."

The mobiles will be gifted to Minnesota's two Deaf schools — Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault and Metro Deaf School in St. Paul. Weitzel plans to use each school's colors in the painted portion of the art works.