Call it a critical mass of murals.
Local youths completed three distinctive murals this spring. Two are visible now and a third will be in place later this summer.
The mural at Hood River Middle School stems back more than a year, the one at Westside Elementary took several weeks under artist in residence Courtney Berens and the one at Children’s Park, guided by artist MacRae Wylde, was started and (mostly) completed in one week, June 4-11.
All three are funded or coordinated through Arts in Education of the Gorge (AIEG), a non-profit school arts facilitator organization headed by Shelley Toon Lindberg.
She wrote, “AIEG, in our 31st year of service to the Mid-Columbia Region, understands the value of creative placemaking to bring people together around common values. In the month of June of this year, several place-based arts education projects were underway. Each project was a collaboration between an AIEG teaching artist in partnership with teachers, students and community members to celebrate our diverse community, a common ethos and the natural environment we all love and share.
“These projects showcased the intangible through visual art experiences and expression, leaving a lasting impact on those who participated and the place they live,” she said. “Creative placemaking is the glue to holds our community together and reminds us how blessed we are to be here.”
Here are short summaries of each:
Hood River Middle School: Rivermile mosaic; location, west wall of the school library.
The mural transports the viewer 400 miles from Astoria to just short of Desert Air, Wash., in what will become a unique interactive tour of the flora, fauna and cultural, natural and historic landmarks of the Columbia River.
“Combining science and art, the idea was to connect kids to the area and literally connect them through a hands-on project,” said long-time HRMS teacher Michael Becker, who wrote the Rivermile Geography grant application to Portland’s Gray Family Foundation two years ago. The project will run at least three years; in 2018-19, students will pick up the river route and progress north and east to the headwaters of the Columbia, that portion of the mosaic to be installed at a yet-to-be determined spot on campus.
The process began in the 2016-17 school year with student-drawn prototypes. The students then researched each visual element from butterflies to pear orchards, rolled out and cut the clay, then glazed and fired the pieces under tutelage of artist-in-residence Toms Royal.
“Toms worked with the architect of ideas: Science teacher Michael Becker and teachers Ann McDonald and Jennifer Wilson and hundreds of students to create a mosaic of the Columbia River and all the life it supports …” Lindberg said.
AIEG teaching artist Sean O’Connor worked with students on a documentary film and science teacher Adam Smith assisted students in the creation of several stop-motion animation films with student and teacher training from Media Arts specialists, Lindberg and Chloë Hight.
What makes this mural unique that QR codes will be embedded in the mosaic mural later this summer to allow anyone with a hand-held device to access the stop motion film clips about animals along the Columbia River. Wilson and McDonald worked with students after school on the mural and the films will be combined with music written by sixth and seventh graders, guided by teacher Anna Eckert.
Children’s Park: Legacy mural preserves the memory of the former Children’s Park by combining an image of the original playground, by artist MacRae Wylde and local children, and repurposed commemorative nameboards that lined the now-demolished structure.
The mural will be installed later this summer on the west wall of the Gibson play structure, following renovation by Hood River Rotary. The old playground structure next to it was replaced by a new one this spring. The commemorative boards and the repainted 1992 chimes will be the last vestiges of the old park. (The new play structure will have 750 new boards.)
“MacRae rose to the challenge to create a mural with anyone in our community who was willing to work with him to pay homage to the original Hood River Children’s Park and those who created it,” stated Lindberg. “A professional artist and a father, who witnessed his daughter’s delight while playing at the park through the years, relished the opportunity and brought his positive and open attitude to the process as he fearlessly collaborated with artists of all ages on the mural. The final product reflects the playful and endearing spirit of our community and of MacRae. He knows how to have a good time and how to draw people into this artistic process. The mural will be hung on the exterior wall of the basketball court that will overlook the new park to gently remind all of us that we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Rotary will refurbish the building before the new mural is hung,” said Lindberg.
Said Wylde, “It was a great idea. I was asked, and it was a simple process. Shelley asked me if I would be willing to do something and what I wanted, and it morphed into this. I suggested what was basically a one-sentence idea: draw a stylized image of the old park using a site plan of the old park and use the names to fill the mosaic. Though what I wanted was a bird’s eye site plan, but that old drawing didn’t exist.
“I thought that could be pretty cool,” he said. “One thing I’ve been focusing on a long time is how short sentence can become a very long project. Verbally you say, ‘Yea, I can do that,’ and then you’re into it for a month. One sentence can change everything.”
Westside Elementary: Panoramic view of mountains, eagles, and, of course, the school mascot, Wildcat, with overlaying bilingual messages of community and caring cover the main wall and two side walls of the formerly-blank playground structure, where the pre-mural feeling was “like being in a prison,” one teacher said.
“AIEG teaching artist Courtney Berens led an entire school to create a whimsical and colorful mural on the play shed at Westside School,” noted Lindberg. “Courtney’s design reflects her sunny disposition and zest for life! She worked tirelessly to bring everyone together to enjoy the creative process and leave a lasting impact.”
Principal Bill Newton said, “The play shed mural at Westside was a collaborative process, with the idea developed from many different people. Westside’s School Spirit Committee, with fourth grade teacher Penney Davis providing leadership, gathered ideas from students and staff that was then shared with artist and Westside parent, Courtney Berens. Courtney then ran with the ideas shared with her, developed the vision and put it all together on a very large wall in our play shed.”
Davis said, “Positivity, personal growth, and love are the overall messages found within our mural. These are the lessons we try to instill in our students here at Westside.”
The Westside PTO was instrumental in funding this project, which was also supported with discounts and donations from Tum-A-Lum Lumber and Morgan Paint Company. A lot of parent and community volunteers have dedicated many hours to this project, helping Berens paint the walls, Newton noted.
“The Westside students were also involved with painting and placing their hand prints along the lower section of the mural. The mural brightens up our play shed walls with the mountains, river and Wildcats on full display, with messages included in English and Spanish to inspire our students.”