QUINCY — Baldwin kindergartner Kambree McDaniles can't tell you what a sculpture is. Neither can her classmate Derek Lopez.
But both had a hand in creating one Tuesday with help from South Carolina artist Bob Doster.
Handprints cut from 16-gauge stainless steel from Kambree, Derek and all the students and staff at Baldwin will be incorporated into Doster's "Flyers," a biplane sculpture and a nod to Thomas S. Baldwin's aviation history.
The piece is one of eight sculptures to be installed by April at Quincy Public Schools' five elementary Schools, Quincy Junior High School, Quincy High School and Quincy Notre Dame High School, thanks to a partnership between Arts Quincy (the Quincy Society of Fine Arts) and the Moorman Foundation to celebrate education.
Doster, Arts Quincy Executive Director Laura Sievert, teachers and volunteers worked with students to trace their hands on the steel. "I think it's cool," Derek said.
Then a handful of students, including Kambree, worked with Doster to cut out a handprint. Garbed in a long-sleeved shirt and apron over her clothes, heavy gloves and a welder's mask, Kambree wielded a plasma cutter, guided by Doster, making more than enough sparks to hold the attention of her classmates.
"This has been so much fun," Sievert said in between working with students. "Among the eight sculptures, this is the only one that really has a chance to be participatory for students and faculty. The inaugural class at this new school will kind of be immortalized in this."
The trip to an Illinois school was a first for Doster, who has done residencies working with more than 150,000 students since 1975 in North and South Carolina.
"I go from school to school and do different projects, usually leaving a legacy gift to the school," he said. At Baldwin, "this will be a legacy gift to the school. It'll be here when this school is tore down."
He's done similar "hand" sculptures at other schools, including a piece for the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind that caught Sievert's eye during the search for artists for the Quincy sculpture project.
Doster hopes the project gives students an awareness that art goes beyond pencils, paintbrushes and maybe clay pots.
"You can draw out what you want, cut it out from a piece of steel," he said. "You also get to learn about a job they might get in a different industry that they knew nothing about. I've had a number come and say 'I became a welder because of you' because they got to play with that toy."
A blowtorch sparked Doster's own interest in art.
"My father let me play with a blowtorch when I was 8 years old for art projects he was working on," Doster said. "I thought that was great fun."
But by the age of 19, Doster was a father of two who had opened a grocery store. Five years later, he went back to school, took an art course and said "that's what I wanted to do." After earning a bachelor's and a master's in sculpture, "I've been doing it ever since. I've been a professional sculptor since 1977," he said.
Working with students has been a highlight of his career, especially hand in hand with them as they operate the plasma cutter. "One of the things I really enjoy with all these residencies is the look on the kid's faces. I don't actually get to see their face – I'm paying attention to where the action is – but teachers have taken pictures," he said.
When all the Baldwin hands have been traced on Wednesday, Doster will head back to South Carolina, where all the handprints will be cut out, polished and welded to a frame, known as an armature, of a biplane.
"Once that gets done, then it'll be the first three days I have available that I can drive back out here with it. The way my schedule is right now, it might be over Christmas break," he said.
Even the adult volunteers had a hand in the project.
Baldwin PTA President Crissie Duran traced her hand and donned all the protective gear to cut out a handprint.
"It was amazing," Duran said. "What an exciting time for our community and our schools."