Students excel on Mars and at sea; Gilman’s art classes are far beyond art

Connie Burcham, Powell Tribune via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 5/17/21

This year, the Powell High School senior art class did some double duty because, after COVID-19 closed school after spring break last year, there was still a project to complete.

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Students excel on Mars and at sea; Gilman’s art classes are far beyond art


POWELL — These days, education is sometimes criticized because there is little real-world application. It also faces criticism that historical events are either glossed over or simply learned by rote memorization. Then there is the argument that too much emphasis is put on computers and the information not used for practical purposes. 

But none of those criticisms apply to Jim Gilman’s art class. 

This year, the Powell High School senior art class did some double duty because, after COVID-19 closed school after spring break last year, there was still a project to complete. 

That was the “Cultivating our future” mission to Mars project, complete with a Space X John Deere tractor/ rover. 

The class projects begin as an idea or concept. Gilman frequently posts those topics on an online forum and people from all over the world comment or make suggestions. Some of the ideas are practical, others just plain campy. For instance, the Mars project includes Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes, riding a rocket ala Slim Pickens in “Dr. Strangelove.” In one hand, Marvin has his cowboy hat, positioned exactly the way it is in the University of Wyoming logo. 

However, the spotting scope he is using is another matter altogether. Its manufacturer, Vortex Optics, asked what the company could do to help the project along. Gilman said he needed an obsolete or ruined scope. Instead, the company sent a brand new, $2,500 scope, T-shirts for all the students and a nice check as well. The only stipulation was that the students had to use the scope and Marvin had to go along on the expedition, complete with photos. 

Senior Matthew Hobbs used the scope during elk season, bringing down a nice 7x6 bull. Sure enough, Marvin the Martian appears in the photos. 

Other areas in the display show the Powell landscape, complete with Heart Mountain in the background, and what a Martian landscape might look like with the cultivation of crops in a greenhouse. It includes a Marv’s Barley factory, too, with the product being exported to Earth for inclusion in Martian beer. The futuristic simulation also includes harvesting natural resources in the form of methane gas, produced in a chemical reaction between ultraviolet radiation from the sun and comet dust that drops chemicals from space. 

The methane that is mined is used to power the space X rockets (and the tractor) for travel and export uses. The students also built a rocket, set to be test fired last week. 

A big part of the class project is problem solving. For instance, the tractor windshield would be covered with red dust from the red planet. A regular wiper would not be practical because the dust carries a heavy load of iron particles, which are responsible for the red tint to the planet. A regular wiper would just grind the iron into the windshield, damaging the surface without improving visibility. 

So senior Lane Franks, with input from the internet community, devised an ion-charged wiper. Basically, it works like a magnet, attracting and trapping the iron particles away from the glass. Smaller non-metallic particles are swept away, and when the charge is disconnected from the wiper, the iron particles drop away as well, usually when the tractor is shut down.

The wheels on the tractor run, powered by a chain drive set on a timer. The robotics classes did the programming to make it run as it does. The whole contraption is suspended from the ceiling. 

“Most of our problems are solved with lots of trial and error,” Gilman said. 

“And a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Hobbs quipped back. 

The group becomes more sober as they near the second project, which normally would have had an entire year devoted just to it. For this project, the class members — up to 40 of them — constructed two replicas of World War II Liberty ships. These ships were quickly constructed of prefabricated sections from a modified British design. During 1942, three ships were completed each day. 

“The Germans couldn’t sink them fast enough to keep them from supplying the troops,” Gilman said. While 2,700 were built, only four remain intact. 

To build the replicas, students studied videos and photographs. Footage of the Jeremiah O’Brien, an operational ship used as a museum and docked in San Francisco, was employed to get the ship’s rigging just right. Hobbs, who Gilman teased about his compulsive need for authenticity, spent untold hours researching the ships.

“It just bugs me if something isn’t right,” Hobbs said. “The closer to realistic we could get it, the better it looks.” 

Gilman and his students didn’t feel it would be respectful to name their ship after a real ship on which men fought and died, so they turned to a local hero: The ship is named the William F. Cody. The prow, rather than bearing the image of a nude female as some of the real ships did, instead carries a likeness of Annie Oakley. The Cody is a 1:32 replica, measuring 14 feet long. It flies a Powell Panther flag, a “submarine spotted” flag and a Class of 2021 flag. The second ship, Edward Avila, is a 1:64 replica, 7 feet in length. 

The project started with computer aided drafted drawings from the CAD class and cut out frames from the woodworking shop. Many pieces of both projects are made with the use of a 3-D printer. 

The two ships are on display with a submarine built back in 2015. The Cody has a gaping hole blown in its side, it has capsized and is headed to the bottom of the “ocean.” That meant the students had to work out mathematically what its angle would be, where air bubbles would escape and what size the hole would be in relation to the size of the replica. 

“They used math, science, physics, problem solving,” Gilman said. 

The classes had to work together on the project and with other classes, communicating their needs. They did much research to learn the history of the ships, how they were constructed and what their jobs were during the war. And because it could only weigh 55 to 60 pounds, like the original Liberty ships, the Cody had to be light but strong.

Later that afternoon, the replica was to be hoisted from its build platform, inverted and hung from the ceiling. Architects had been in to check that the brackets were strong enough and correctly positioned to be safe for those passing underneath or stopping to observe the obsolete ship preserved for future generations. 

Just as the Liberty ships transported the Allies to victory in WWII, this project will transport the student builders toward success in life wherever it takes them. And Jim Gilman couldn’t be prouder.