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Wy’east students weave images of cultures that combine for community

Mural installation in February.


Mural installation in February.

Even days after the unveiling, students at Wy’east are still stopping to admire the intricate pieces of artwork, staring and studying until they suddenly realize they are late to class.

What once was the hollow opening to the antiquated stage in the cafeteria at Wy’east Middle School later became a towering wall — literally an enormous blank canvas that emerged when new construction turned the stage into a computer lab. It now displays the most recent installment of artwork at the school.

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A trio of students works on panels.

Made available by a grant through the Arts in Education Program, ExCel After School Program site coordinator Pauline Koll and artist Allison Bell Fox coordinated efforts to design and create the new work of art that students and staff created under their direction. In three short weeks, the installment of 104 strikingly colorful, 2-foot square panels, representing folk art styles of the valley’s major historical influences in a quilt-style layout, now embellishes the cafeteria wall.

Volunteers gathered on Thursday, Feb. 27, to install the 104 tiles onto the south wall while staff, students and other volunteers looked on, watching the pieces come together and come to life. Families joined together in the cafeteria that evening to celebrate the installation, enjoying refreshments and conversation, and participating in various make-and-take art projects facilitated by Wy’east staff during the school’s Family Art Night.

The mural’s 27-by-17-foot actual size depicts an image of the Hood River valley that includes Mount Hood, both the Hood and Columbia River, as well as salmon, roots, apples, pears, huckleberries, and a forest-to-orchard transition of the diverse landscape, surrounding a dramatic sun-filled sky, dotted with clouds. Dividing the panels into a patchwork of the different folk art influences inspired by Fox, students and staff spent three weeks learning and experiencing four different art forms that represent the historic cultural influences of our valley: Native American, Japanese, Hispanic and American Pioneer.

Over the project’s three-week process, staff and students met in the cafeteria with Fox, two days a week after school, to paint the pre-cut plywood tiles that were donated by local roofer, Darin Dalstrom (with the support of Tum-A-Lum Lumber), and pre-cut by school STEM teacher Patrick Getchis. Each week Fox introduced a new art form that transformed the basic tiles into graphically rich, colorful quilt squares. These art squares would eventually be incorporated with other pieces of other art form techniques to create the patchwork “quilt” that would adorn the wall they worked under.

Seventh-grade student Gracee Dillingham’s face lights up when asked about the project she spent time on. “It (the whole piece) has a good combination of colors!” She adds, “Working with Allison was really fun!”

ExCel Program Coordinator Pauline Koll was also pleased with the outcome. “I was totally overwhelmed by the beauty of the project and how well the kids did. Allison is very gifted. She has a knack for working with kids and is a great artist with an amazing imagination.”

Allison Bell Fox is a resident artist with the Columbia Gorge Arts in Education program. She has worked on other projects in the valley, including the Tobacco Prevention mural on the Wy’east grandstands, the May Street Dragon mural at May Street Elementary, and the “What Drives Me to Learn and Grow” mural at Hood River Middle School. In her experience, she has found that community/student-involved murals have, by far, become the most rewarding projects for her.

“This was by far the most challenging mural that I have done to date,” she said. “In the beginning I thought it was a great idea to break a single image into a grid of 104 squares to be painting in different artistic styles, but the day-to-day process was more than a little confusing. Not only did I have to keep track of the design myself, but the ultimate challenge was keeping the students on the right track as well. But watching the final project come together square by square at the very end was well worth all the crazy planning.”

Wy’east Principal Catherine Dalbey is excited about the mural, stating, “The cafeteria is the most-used common space in the school. It makes me happy every time I walk in and see that work prominently displayed there. The representation of the cultural heritage we all share in the school and in our community is significant for all of us.”

For more information on the project, contact Pauline Koll, ExCel site coordinator, at Pauline.koll@hood-river.k12.or.us or 541-354-1548, ext. 4832.

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