At Group Delphi, creativity is the spark that fuels everything we do. That’s why we’re thrilled when we get a chance to invest in creativity — especially creative kids.
A Gala for the Birds
The Piedmont Birdhouse Gala, an annual fundraiser benefitting arts programs at local schools, is the perfect example.
PAINTS (Promote Art in the Schools Inc.) is a nonprofit organization that does just what its name suggests: promotes the arts and art education in Piedmont schools and the surrounding community. Founded in 1989, PAINTS fundraises through annual memberships and fundraising events such as the Bird House Gala & Auction. Proceeds have gone to computers, art-related software, kilns and pug mills for clay, many diverse types of art supplies and equipment, visiting artists, museum visits, art teacher education and enrichment, art books, special projects that link with the schools’ curricula and more. PAINTS has hosted the annual Birdhouse Gala & Auction since 2004, relying on the generosity of Bay-area artists and Piedmont students who donate their original works to be auctioned.
One such artist is Jon Schleuning, who has donated four of his own unique avian residences in the last five years. The father of three kids in the Piedmont school system, Schleuning feels that PAINTS is serving a dire need in his community.
“The arts are continuously getting cut back,” Schleuning said. “I’m really fortunate to live in a community where schools are seen as important, and people are willing to contribute to the arts to make up for some of the shortfalls. It’s so important that kids learn to be creative, and that having an imagination is a really powerful thing. They need more of a sense that you can create the world; you don’t have to have it created for you.”
Schleuning himself is the perfect example; his birdhouses have become standout items in the auction, both for their wildly creative designs and for their larger-than-life scale. One year he created a 10-foot-high pencil; another, an equally oversized paintbrush. But when he sketched out his idea for this year’s auction, Schleuning realized he was going to need a little help.
Flash of Inspiration
“I was inspired this year to take the spark of inspiration — that moment of insight or creativity — and make it really big,” Schleuning explained. Thus, the idea that took shape in his notebook was his biggest yet: a towering, 13-foot-tall lightning bolt.
“I wanted it to be big enough that there was a sense of tension about it — the struggle to find creativity, and then nurture it and actually make the idea real. I also wanted it to look like it couldn’t be built the way it was built; like it shouldn’t stand up and be suspended at the angle that it is.”
Given those lofty aspirations, Schleuning knew the project would require a bit more expertise than he was used to mustering in his backyard. That’s when he reached out to Group Delphi.
Pro Workmanship, Pro Bono
Schleuning first encountered Group Delphi’s work while working for Pentagram, a global design firm. The two companies each played a role in creating the Boudin Bakery museum on Fisherman’s Wharf.
When it came time to create the lightning bolt years later, Schleuning recalled Delphi’s ability to bring creative ideas to fruition. He reached out to Bill Nieser, Delphi’s former head of museums. Although Nieser retired earlier this year, Schleuning got a response the very same day from Steve Todisco, director of museum projects.
“It’s exciting to get projects with this kind of creativity,” Todisco said. “We’re makers of awe here, but it’s typically on the commercial side. This time we got to apply that same awe to the arts and the community, which is very inspiring.”
Bringing Creativity to Life
Delphi’s talented team of artisans and craftspeople were also excited to lend their signature creativity and workmanship to the project. With project manager Brad Graham overseeing the build, the crew set to work.
First they collaborated with Schleuning to create detailed plans, and the CNC team routed the finely carved frame pieces from weather-resistant MDF. Then the woodworkers assembled the enormous frame, and the metal shop created an internal steel structure to support it and a base unit for it to rest upon during the auction. After it sold, the bolt wouldn’t need the base, instead being permanently installed on the buyer’s property.
“I had no idea how complicated what I was trying to build actually was,” Schleuning said. “It was amazing to see Delphi’s insight and passion for problem-solving, and the reality of making this idea come to life. To take this idea and turn it into something that’s 13 feet tall, yet looks simple and effortless, was inspiring.”
Schleuning wasn’t the only one inspired.
“This has been a very interesting project, and everyone in the shop had a good time making it,” Graham said. “Our team is used to building large and impressive structures, but even they stopped and stared as they walked by. They were in awe; it’s not every day you see a 13-foot lightning bolt towering over you.”
“I felt that sense of collaboration and excitement throughout the process,” Schleuning agreed. “And that’s the essence of creativity. If you can go from something solely in your imagination into something that’s manifested and real, that’s making creativity come to life.”