For the past few years, the number one complaint from students and teachers alike at The Art League School has been the easels. The old holsters really were a wonder. Somehow, they managed to be too flimsy and too heavy at the same time. The hardware was constantly falling off and disappearing, and they took forever to set up and break down. In short, they were notorious for cutting into both class time...and people's patience.
"We had a full-time volunteer just to maintain the easels," says Suzanne Bethel, The Art League's deputy director of operations. "It was a never-ending job, like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Just when you thought you were done painting at the end, it was already time to start painting the beginning again."
Staff decided to take action. Buying a new fleet of easels, however, was going to be expensive and complicated. Despite having tried four different models in the school before, none of the designs was popular. "There was something to not like about each one," says Bethel. "So what we decided to do was design our own."
From there, "Franken-Easel" started to form. Working with facilities manager, Chuck Mills, the school office began to piece together the best parts from all the designs, leaving out the faulty ones. They built five and placed their experiments in various classrooms around the school. "We wanted to get feedback from the teachers and students about our design," says Bethel. "Once they were used a couple of times, we were able to go back to the drawing board, perfect the design and start production."
A few vital improvements were made based on past complaints and difficulties with the old easels. Franken-Easel was made to "telescope," or adjust inward, in order to reduce glare on the paintings. The footprint was also reduced to make the classrooms less hazardous. "So many people were tripping on the legs of the old easels," says Bethel. "And they were crowding each other. The smaller base solved those problems." They also used poplar wood, which is both sturdy and lightweight, and the chosen hardware was much bigger to prevent loss.
The easels, which are patented and branded with The Art League logo, are now for sale at a bargain price: $175 each. All proceeds made from the easel sales will go straight into growing the school's personal fleet. "This project was done with the students and teachers in mind," says Bethel. "It was designed to meet their needs specifically...and also so we never have to hear someone say their easel is broken again!"