by Judy Tacyn October 4, 2017
Take 592 artistic and environmentally conscious elementary school students, give them sketch books, paint and brushes, and a palette as large as the side of a building. Add an award-winning local mural artist and enthusiastic faculty ready to beautify the Cape St. Claire Elementary School courtyard space, and you’ve got a masterpiece in the making.
“The planning process for this mural was very student-driven,” said Shelby Morris, art educator at Cape St. Claire Elementary School and mural project coordinator. "We had very rich conversations with our students where we would brainstorm and sketch imagery that would not only represent our school, but also our home of Cape St. Claire. "
Like many classroom curriculums in Anne Arundel County, Cape. St. Claire education touches on the importance of civilians being environmental stewards. As a result, it became important to teachers and students alike that the mural accurately portray the delicate ecosystem that exists within the Chesapeake Bay.
“As the students began hearing each other’s ideas, it became very clear that a staple of our community is the Chesapeake Bay,” continued Morris. “Additionally, our school mascot is a seagull. These two concepts seamlessly fused as we expanded our outlook on the importance of the watershed in our backyard.”
Planning began in April, with production in May and June. Morris and local mural artist Gayle Mangan Kassal, whose two children attend Cape St. Claire Elementary School, guided students through the creative and painting process.
“So many topics were discussed from the research to a design concept, how to draw or transfer imagery to a larger scale, working with perspective, brushwork, to teamwork, and dealing with change as sometimes one student would rework someone else’s work, then sometimes reworked it again,” said Mangan Kassal. “Students learned we were a team no matter what and it’s a team effort to complete the work.”
The mural was painted on primed PVC panels that were later installed to the outside courtyard walls. This allowed students to work horizontally inside the art room and avoid safety concerns such as attempting to reach areas that were too high.
The youngest students painted preliminary base coats on the originally white panels. By the time the oldest students were working on the mural, they were contributing the finest details.
A soaring seagull, the school’s mascot, took prominence. The students also wanted to highlight their surroundings and show what they want to protect in their environment, such as monarchs (raised by first-graders in their classroom), terrapins (raised by third-graders) and oysters.
A structural complication offered an excellent opportunity to test the students’ creative problem-solving skills. The mural needed to accommodate a vent in an outside wall.
“I thought to creatively solve a vent issue with the idea ‘vents equal filtering air,’ so why not surround the vent with images of oysters?” questioned Mangan Kassal. “The Chesapeake Bay oyster filters were a terrific tool for teachers to approach the [vent issue].”
Mangan Kassal said the students loved hearing her thought process of how to be creative and not look at challenges as problems but fun enigmas to solve. “Plus, they enjoyed the little ‘secret’ symbolism and giggled when the ‘a-ha, I get it’ moment happened,” said Mangan Kassal.
Over the summer, Mangan Kassal worked to fine-tune the mural and bring into focus all 280 square feet of the student artwork. Morris reported that the students were ecstatic to participate in the mural project.
“As an art teacher of young children, it is so important to me that students are able to understand the artistic process or steps that all artists must take when creating a work of art. With a project of such magnitude, it would have been extremely easy for students to become reluctant to participate,” said Morris. “However, we really strove to break this project in enough manageable steps that students were able to feel confident in their abilities and see their progress build.”
Parent Kristin Hurff relayed a story of her daughter coming home excited after working on the mural. “There is a sense of accomplishing something that will be there for many years to come,” said Hurff. “As she grows, she will be able to view the artwork that all the students had a part in creating.”
Now that the mural is complete, Morris said one of the most rewarding aspects is seeing children recall how their efforts contributed to the masterpiece. The new mural was unveiled during back-to-school night on September 12.
“Throughout this process students, developed an understanding of the elements and principles of art, furthered their painting skills, and gained an appreciation for the benefit of collaborating toward a common goal,” said Morris. “The students got to see firsthand how an artist works through the artistic process and how important flexibility and perseverance are.”
Cape St. Claire Elementary students worked with artist Gayle Mangan Kassal to create a mural that highlighted the importance of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and its tributaries in their backyard.
240 + square feet Acrylic on Celtec®
600 students - Kindergarten to 5th grade