Cheney Free Press -


Cheney Middle School art inspired by local hills


John McCallum

The "wheat" section of Susan Zoccola's artwork entitled "Palouse" is suspended in the atrium of Cheney Middle School.

Cheney Middle School students finally learned last Friday what the collection of tubing and chains was hanging from the walls of the school's multipurpose room.

Students participated in a question and answer session with Seattle artist Susan Zoccola, designer of a piece called "Palouse" commissioned for CMS through the Washington State Arts Commission's Art in Public Places Program. The program was created by the Legislature in 1974 to acquire artwork for K-12 schools, public universities, colleges and state agencies and is funded by one-half of 1 percent of the state's portion of construction costs.

Cheney received state matching funds for construction of both middle schools in 2010. Committees selected the artwork, with Westwood Middle School installing an eight window-panel piece called "Synergy" by Seattle-based glass artist Sonja Blomdahl in 2014.

Zoccola's work was installed over spring break this year.

"Spring break you left, then came back and there was art," CMS Assistant Principal Eli Holm told the students.

Zoccola, who spent summers in Spokane when she was a child, said she came to Cheney to meet with CMS staff and the selection committee members. She said she gained inspiration through Cheney's landscape.

"It just struck me that the hills around here are so beautiful," she said.

The University of Washington and San Francisco Art Institute educated artist returned to her Seattle studio and kicked around some ideas, coming up with a concept featuring gently curved tubes of stainless steel with light, gold and silver ball-type chain suspended between the tubes.

After consulting with the district's architect, she modified her original design from a ceiling-suspended piece to one that mostly adorns the room's walls.

Overall, Palouse features three pieces measuring a total of 75 feet, by six feet by three feet mounted on the walls, with another portion consisting of three heads of wheat measuring 10x8x4 feet hanging from the school's atrium. The main sections feature over 4,000 feet of ball chain, Zoccola said.

Zoccola told students in designing the work, she had to have everything measured and documented down to the smallest of details, including paper templates for mounting brackets and sketches of how the piece would go into her van for transportation and then be hung.

Zoccola's work and experience as listed on her website is extensive, with artwork on display not only in Seattle but in Oregon and California. During the question and answer session it was obvious some of the students had visited her website to learn about the artist.

One student questioned if it wouldn't have been easier to just use necklace-type chain. Zoccola said it probably would.

"I like doing things the hard way," she added. "If I did it the easiest way, it wouldn't be any fun and I wouldn't have learned a lot."

Another student asked if she sketched out her designs first, to which Zoccola replied she sketches out ideas rather than exact designs.

Zoccola said her longest piece is a 150-foot work on display over several blocks in downtown Everett. She also has 120-foot piece, "Tesla" on display at Spokane Community College's Vocational Technical Building.

"This art will be here to the end of its (CMS) days," CMS art and leadership teacher and district committee member Sherry Syrie told the students.

John McCallum can be reached at


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