How One Artist Used Tech Central to Create Art for the Community

The Des Moines city skyline now has a permanent home at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden – and it happened with help from the Tech Central Innovation and Maker Lab at the Des Moines Public Library.

Des Moines Botanical Garden Installation
The 3'x6' Des Moines Botanical Garden Installation

The art installation, comprised of wood and colorful moss, was installed in late February. The wood portions of the installation, depicting several buildings in the skyline, were created using the Glowforge (otherwise known as a laser cutter) at the Tech Central lab by artist Matt McMahon. The lab is located on the second floor of the Central Library.

The project was the brainchild of Botanical Garden horticulturist Rachel Tan. After approaching Horticulture Manager Leslie Hunter with her idea, the two brought in Garden staff from other departments to get the project off the ground. The team reached out to McMahon last fall.

McMahon in his lab
McMahon in his shop

McMahon is a woodworker that specializes in wall art, wedding decorations, and custom laser engraving. He had previously worked with the Botanical Garden in 2020, creating special wooden gnomes as part of a scavenger hunt. In 2021, he helped the Botanical Garden by creating a set of raindrops for a special display, as well as some “giant” gnomes for decoration in-house. This time, they wanted a 3-foot by 6-foot cutout of the Des Moines skyline.

McMahon knew that to do the job right, he would need a laser cutter. Botanical Garden staff told McMahon the library would have the tools he needed, and he set off for work.

McMahon was able to take an introductory course through the library to begin using the Glowforge. “It’s great,” he says. “I believe someone with simple computer skills could take the course and be using the laser in the same day.” Using Adobe Illustrator and a program called Inkscape – both available through Tech Central - he was able to create a simple sketch of the skyline to scale and then split those files so they could be cut using the laser.

The Tech Central Glowforge at work

McMahon says the Glowforge works similarly to an inkjet printer or fax machine. When you take the introductory course, you’re taught how to create the files that the Glowforge reads. When you finish creating your file, the Glowforge will read the file and use the function you’ve set to create the finished product. Functions include score, which creates guidemarks for you to work with on your own, engrave, and cut. The Glowforge allows you to work with several different kinds of material, including wood, leather, plexiglass, glass, marble, and more.

Once all the pieces were carefully cut, they were delivered to the Garden for staining and assembly. The horticulture team worked together to install various mosses to complete the design. This work of art now hangs in the Gardeners Show House at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

McMahon says that Tech Central was key in creating this unique piece of art. “The computers in the lab have the best editing programs. The tools and software programs in Tech Central are top notch,” he says. “This is an incredible opportunity for people to try something new and bring their creative ideas to life.”

Glowforge training classes happen every Thursday at 10 AM at the Central Library. You can also contact the library to learn more about scheduling time to learn about the Glowforge when it’s convenient to you. Learn more by going to our Tech Central page.

McMahon (R) stands with his piece
McMahon (R) stands next to the finished piece.

About The Tech Central Innovation and Maker Lab

The Tech Central Innovation and Maker Lab offers free use of technology and special equipment for the public. Free to use with a library card, patrons have used Tech Central to create and edit video projects using our camera, green screen, and video editing software. Other equipment includes the Glowforge, a heat press and sublimation printer that allows for do-it-yourself screen printing, a button maker, and embroidery machine, and more. You can see all of Tech Central’s features and schedule time to use the lab by going to

Published on April 10, 2023
Last Modified December 04, 2023