Broadneck Elementary School’s new mural — featuring a garden filled with flowers, bees, and the words “Read,” “Learn,” and “Grow Together” — ended up taking over 18 months to complete.
The mural at the Arnold school started as a third grade “legacy project” assignment but took on a life of its own after lead painter Gayle Kassal was diagnosed with cancer just a month after starting the mural in March 2022.
“When I first started, it was just supposed to be a portion of the size it is now,” Kassal said. “They wanted to create a special project for the current third grade, and wished to include the third graders from the previous year who missed their project because of COVID.” This has always been a third grade tradition.
A legacy project for third graders at Broadneck Elementary has been a tradition to remember each class that goes through, meant to be enjoyed during their duration remaining years at Broadneck, Kassal said.
The project is largely thanks to a $2,500 grant from the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County. Stephanie Walsh, an art teacher at Broadneck Elementary in 2021, was able to secure the funds needed to begin the project. With the help of the Broadneck Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, her dream of painting a garden mural with her students began to take shape.
Walsh and Kassal had relationship before the Broadneck Elementary mural. They’d crossed paths working on a 2017 mural at Cape St. Clair Elementary in Annapolis. The mural depicts a seagull, the school’s mascot, caring for the Chesapeake Bay.
“She did such a great job; I knew that our students would really benefit from working with her and the space would benefit from her expertise,” Walsh said.
Third and forth graders at Broadneck Elementary help paint a mural with lead painter Gayle Kassal. Kassal was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the project started. (Brian Jeffries)
The Broadneck project was going according to plan until a month after Kassal began. A month later, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, forcing her to step away for nearly eight months.
“I had only been working with the students for a three-week residency,” Kassal said. “I was going to take the work home after and fine-tune the project and finish it off. I took it home, and that same week, I found a lump on my breast.”
She underwent a double mastectomy and eventually chemotherapy and radiation.
“One thing led to another; a couple months turned into eight. I was just working on recovering,” she said.
Thomas Cordts, vice principal at Broadneck, says the school was never in a rush to finish the project. Even though the original mural was supposed to smaller, it was always the school’s plan to expand because the wall space in front of the library is so large.
“We wanted the mural to be student- and artist-created, and we wanted it to be done by the same hands, he said. “So waiting the time to make sure that it was done with the beginning vision was important to us.”
Time went on, and Kassal regained her strength, partially with the help of the Annapolis Dragon Boat Club, a group originally organized to help breast cancer survivors. She said the club gave her soul and muscles the strength to push through her adversary.
After nearly eight months, she regained her health enough to start painting again with the help of her 12-year-old daughter, Skye, and Kassal’s friend’s daughter, Sofia Zinder. Each week, they would meet and take their time with the original 20-foot portion of mural.
“I have a sweet daughter, who is incredibly artistic. She would sit next to me, while we painted one flower at a time,” Kassal said.
For about three months, they’d go through this routine while Kassal slowly regained strength.
“We just chipped away at it, the three of us,” she said. “We played music, had a lot of fun and laughed, and it really helped me get back because they were a support for me, too.”
While she was going through her last rounds of chemo, Kassal proposed expanding the project to take up the entire wall, and applied for a Public art grant through the Maryland State Arts Council to finish the larger mural.
In January, Kassal learned that she would receive the funding and knew there was still a lot of work to do. She decided to enlist the help of art students from Broadneck High School.
“I asked their art club if anyone was interested, and they were all so thrilled,” she said. “Out of maybe 20 kids, 18 of them were Broadneck Elementary alumni.”
So the project that had been started to ensure the legacies of third and fourth graders expanded to include teachers and high school students.
Now, in a Broadneck Elementary hallway, panels to the right of the library doors are filled with hundreds and hundreds of flowers, all individually designed and painted by every one of the 284 third and fourth grade students during Kassal’s three-week residency in spring 2022. The left side, featuring a bee surfing through pages of a book, was completed by 152 third grade students, along with the high school helpers.
Cordts, who has seen the mural from beginning to end as the vice principal, said he is simply astonished by the project.
“Her dedication to the project as a whole was just far beyond what I would have expected from one particular person,” he said. “She was here nights while we had night custodians. They were interested in what she was doing, and they were even excited to have connection with her.”
Jamie Miller, principal at Broadneck Elementary, said the mural has been received “amazingly.” She said, “When Dr. Bedell, our new superintendent, and members of his cabinet came to tour the school, they were stopped in their tracks by the beauty on the wall, thanks to Gayle and the students.”
Article printed in the Capital Gazette October 13, 2023
photo - Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette
by Elizabeth Harwood
Broadneck Elementary School has a unique tradition for third-graders. Each year, students participate in what’s known as a legacy project, an opportunity to make a lasting impact.
In 2018, the school enclosed what used to be an indoor courtyard-like area used as the school library, which created a corridor with two new walls centrally located inside the school. Stephanie Walsh, a Broadneck art teacher at the time, was immediately inspired.
“We had these massive blank walls with nothing on them,” Walsh said.
Walsh knew who she would reach out to — Gayle Mangan Kassal, a mural artist who worked on a past project with Walsh.
While discussions of installing a mural at Broadneck Elementary School began in the 2019-2020 school year, COVID-19 interrupted the planning until October 2021 when Walsh applied for funding with an Arts Council of Anne Arundel County grant. The grant was awarded and, with a Broadneck parent teacher organization contribution, a mural design for one of the two walls commenced in January of last year.
“I really wanted to focus on our mascot, which is the bee,” Walsh said. “[Bees are] just so important to the planet, and they are nature’s way of showing what teamwork and community can do.”
Where there are bees, there are flowers and, for Mangan Kassal, relevant symbolism.
“The garden flourishes with the help of the bees working together as a community surrounded by the Magothy River and the Chesapeake Bay,” Mangan Kassal explained.
After the vision had been cast, 274 third-graders, along with fourth-graders who missed out the prior year due to the pandemic, met in March 2022 to leave their legacy. Creative juices inspired students with ideas, teaching them it’s OK to make changes. Students also learned about making mistakes.
“There are never really mistakes,” Mangan Kassal said. “Sometimes you just got to roll with a change.” “We are all working together, doing our best, and each student helped each other. Some enjoyed the larger areas while some are better at the details and in the end it all came together beautifully.”
Or, as Mangan Kassal shared, “like little life lessons all the way through.”
Installing the first wall in January inspired a vision for the remaining wall — and a second legacy. Seeing the potential of painting the entire wall and the remaining 40 ft Mangan Kassal applied for a public art grant with the Maryland State Arts Council. This was awarded in January allowing the next batch of 152 third-graders to begin their legacy tradition, as well as their spin on the second wall.
“They wanted a boat, they wanted a pirate … [they] wanted someone reading,” Mangan Kassal said.
Keeping to the bee concept, the second wall shows caricatures of bees having an adventure on a boat that’s a book. Framing the bottom of both walls are book pages that lead the eye to the entrance of the library. The concept was then pulled together by adding a hive and some sun.
“The sunshine comes out of the library [door] saying this is where great ideas are,” Mangan Kassal said. “This is our hive, and this is how it all comes together. Read. Learn. Grow together. The whole thing just made sense finally.”
Walsh’s original vision was passed down to her successor, Jaclyn Cockcroft, who noticed students were not only learning about themselves through the value of art but also about working with others on a project that requires teamwork.
“Collaboration is a very big part,” Cockcroft said. “In the art room, it’s very individualized.”
This school year was kicked off with an unveiling of the mural and a small ceremony, earmarking a legacy for more than 425 students.
“They have a legacy,” Mangan Kassal said, “… that stays for generations to come and hopefully inspires other students.” For more details, visit www.gaylemangankassal.com/educational.
Article printed in the Severna Park Voice on October 4, 2023
I was so excited to see this beautiful mural installed on Thursday, February 17th, 2023! A wonderful addition to the library's entrance wall of Broadneck Elementary School. The design is based off their mascot, the bee. Bees are incredible creatures and an essential link to our food chain. I wanted them to be our foundation to the mural and since this was a library a perfect place to have a honeycomb was in a book! So I put the two together and above a beautiful garden flourishes with the help of the bees working together as a community, surrounded by the Magothy River and the Chesapeake Bay. I may have designed the initial mural plan yet it is filled with hundreds and hundreds of flowers all individually designed and painted by the 284 -3rd and 4th grade students during a 3 week artist in residency in April 2022. Art teachers Mrs. Walsh, Ms. Councill and I had a fantastic time working with all the students. We sketched the outline, and spent the first week painting the water, grasses, sky, and honeycomb. The second week began the details of the flowers and the bees started to form. The third week was focused on fine-tuning water ripples, the pages of the book, (yes that's a huge book! But only half of it...the other half will be coming soon!) Then students designed their flowers and painted as many details as they could before the residency ended on April 8th, 2022. The panels were brought to my studio so I could fine-tune the work, add a few bees and the large sunflower detail. On April 20th, 2022 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to step away to focus on treatment. I returned 8 months later with the help of a few friends fine-tuning each of the 532 flowers. The joy it brought me was beyond therapeutic and just what the doctor ordered! These sweet flowers, honeycomb and bees made me realized we all grew together and the idea of adding the words "Grow Together" was born. This also inspired the plan for the opposite wall which will be created by the current 3rd graders this coming March so stay tuned! One last note - Can you spot the tiny little caterpillar in the flowers? There is only one and I hope you can find him! Enjoy!
"I love a different approach to portraiture! The circular pose of the sleeping sisters with their plush pups looking at the viewer gives new meaning to 'Best Portrait'. There is nothing stiff or isolating in this painting, but engaging, often hard to achieve with portrait painting." Juror Nancie King Mertz
• Best Portrait Polly Mitchell Memorial Award, Certificate of Excellence from Holbein Art Materials, & Portrait Award from Jerry's Artarama Delaware.
19.5in x 20.5in framed, private collection
Chesapeake Arts Center March 7, 2022 - April 28, 2022
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Art Reception is Sunday, May 15, 2022 from 2:00 - 4pm
The Mansion at Strathmore
10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, MD
"River Dance" dramatically expresses a lily’s journey from emerging bud to bursting bloom by the intertwining conversations and silence of neighboring flowers. In 2018, “River Dance” was chosen out of hundreds of artwork to be reproduced and displayed as a rotating gallery at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Maryland First Lady, Yumi Hogan, chaired the jury selection of the various artworks for the gallery. I was thrilled and honored to represent our state.
"River Dance" pictured here was reproduced as an enlarged 8 foot square fabric print. Located in Gallery D behind security, between the D and E terminals and is now on permanent collection at BWI Airport.
(original artwork pastel painting 39" x 89")
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Airport mural for Concourse Art Gallery
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Pediatric Imagery Center
Severna Park Voice
The Capital Gazette
Maryland Pastel Society's National Juried Exhibition "Shades of Pastel"
"I love a different approach to portraiture!" said juror Nancie King Mertz, "the circular pose of the sleeping sisters with their plush pups looking at the viewer gives new meaning to 'Best Portrait'. There is nothing stiff or isolating in this painting, but engaging, often hard to achieve with portrait painting."
"I am delighted to have selected your art for our online exhibit "The Spirit of Resilience" and have given you an Award of Excellence presented by The Healing Power of ART & ARTISTS" Renee Phillips, Curator & Director
Maryland Pastel Society National show "Symphony in Color" Merit Award
Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade poster
Pastel Journal year's best 100 honorable mention award for Gayle Mangan Kassal's floral pastel "A Moment in Time"