Mural livens up fire hall

Visiting artist finds surprises in students’ artistic inspirations

When teacher Heather Laurance said, “Jack can you get off the tree?” she did not mean it literally.

The tree Jack was on was a part of a painted forest-and-horses scene that the children of Laurance’s New Vision School helped paint on the east wall of the Mount Hood Fire Hall. Laurance was encouraging Jack to add something to another part of the mural, during a work party last week.

Artist Alex Cook of Boston, who has overseen about 100 murals nationwide, did the overall design and worked with Laurance and her charges to complete the tree, flowers and other fine details.

The fire station is adjacent to Mt. Hood Town Hall, where New Vision meets. It took the students two days to complete; though parents and Cook helped.

“There are other beautiful murals, but nothing in Hood River quite like this,” Laurance said. New Vision regularly hosts artists in residence and workshops in drumming and other arts, but it’s the six-year-old private school’s first mural, and it happens to be the largest that Cook had done in a two-day period.

(Cook also oversaw creation of a mural at St. Francis House/Mid Valley Elementary School, profiled in the Oct. 6 Hood River News.)

“Alex had an idea of what he wanted to go with, based on the area and looking at the wall and speaking with the children about it,” Laurance said.

After that, the project developed as the kids went about embellishing the main structure of trees and horses.

“I think it’s pretty fun to do a big mural,” said Olivia Nickson. “It’s just really fun to paint on a wall. I like everything about it but I think the trees are pretty cool because there’s blue ones.”

The Mount Hood fire hall is located on Highway 35 just north of the Cooper Spur Road intersection. You’ve got to get out of your car and walk around the back of the building to see the mural.

“It doesn’t look exactly like I imagined it; it looks better than I imagined it,” Cook said. “Things just happen that way. Any time you do anything collaboratively there’s always things you don’t expect.”

“I like the horses and how they’re trampling around,” said student Drew Chapman.

“I like that it has a lot of colors and how they made it and they had some good ideas before they do it. At my house before I get ready to draw I always have an idea before I do it,” Drew said.

“As an artist, you don’t actually have control; you have a project with an outcome that is full of little miracles,” Cook said.

The cinder block building needed rust marks removed and a coat of primer before Cook could put up the main images. After the school got permission from the county, parents did the washing and priming. Teen helper Valerie Fisher and teachers Margaret Nesbit and Sorcha Meek helped oversee the kids’ involvement.

Cook said the creative process was that of him creating a kind of “coloring book” for the kids to put their inspiration to.

“The main thing with working with groups and kids is make something as gorgeous as possible but also has enough structure for everyone’s involvement so no one feels out of their league,” Cook said. He outlined the mural image and labeled colors for the trees, horses and other elements, “and everyone just kind of fills it in.”

“I think it’s about knowing who you’re going to be working with and knowing their level of artistic experience, and it’s easy with this group because they’re all about the same age,” he said.

“I did the initial design but always when they’re (children) painting they’re making decisions. The child’s hand comes in and does thing an adult could never do. They have a totally different sense of space than adults,” Cook said.

“Where an adult would evenly space the flowers, kids are not thinking of that at all; so you end up with some really interesting ways of breaking up the space that have mostly to do with where they were sitting, or who was next to them, which ends up in a decision-making process that is totally different than you or I would do. It’s one of the wonderful things about working with groups.”

Leave it to one of the youngsters to make an observation that adults might not think of. As the kids prepared to add a field of flowers, Cook handed out brushes and instructed the kids on the basic dimension of a flower, saying, “Everybody make a fist. That’s about how big your flower is, no bigger than your fist.”

At that. Zan Lapp said, “The smaller the person, the smaller the flower.”

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