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CPS Students Flex Skills in Beautifully Detailed Chicago Flag Sculpture

Skateboard bearings, carved countertop material, and moving boats are among the impressive features in this 3-D mosaic.

Computer science students at Lane Tech completed a 126-tile mosaic using fancy equipment at their Makers Lab.   Photos: Jeff Solin

Some people say mosaics are a lost art. Tell that to the students at Lane Tech High School.

Hoping to unite his students in a collaborative piece before the end of the school year, Lane Tech computer science teacher Jeff Solin decided to pay tribute to one of the most revered images of Chicago iconography—the city flag.

“I wanted to do something where the students would be able to have creative freedom and use the skills they had learned throughout the year,” says Solin, who assigned each of his 126 juniors and seniors a roughly four-inch square tile in what he dubbed the Chicago Flag Mosaic Project.

As for the content of each square, "I wanted them to think about Chicago, its diversity, the different communities that make up the city,” Solin says. “But at the end of the day, I wanted them to be passionate about what they were making.”

The students were given three weeks to complete their tile using various tools in the school’s two-year-old Makers Lab, such as a laser cutter, 3-D carver, and 3-D printer. The final pieces pay tribute to parts of the cityscapes including Navy Pier, Wrigley Field, and the Willis Tower, while also highlighting some of the students’ heritage.

“I’m super proud of the work that they did,” Solin says. “These are 126 different stories that people can dive into with 126 different processes that went into making them.” Here, he discusses four of the more difficult pieces to make.

The tile with Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel was modeled from scratch and incorporated a skateboard bearing allowing for the wheel to spin, Solin says.

The forest with mountains tile used Corian material, frequently used for kitchen countertops, and took several hours to carve the different sections, he adds.

Not visible in this photo but still cool: the tile modeled after the Chicago Riverwalk with the two boats was designed to allow the boats to move along small slots.

The third star on the mosaic has layers of Baltic Birch plywood, Solin says. The student made custom laser-cut spacers to give a tier effect on the side of the tile. On one of the interior layers, you can spot a hidden sailboat incorporated in the design. 

The mosaic has caught the attention of Navy Pier and the Chicago Children’s Museum, who have expressed interest in displaying the piece, Solin says. He hopes the mosaic will tour around the city before returning home to Lane Tech.

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