There are pictures – a silhouetted cheerleader, dancers, sports figures, allusions to music, a cute dog, a flower – but the words woven in patterns throughout the art really make the wall talk. The mural being created by Rochelle Middle School students in the lobby area outside their cafeteria carries a message louder than its bright oranges and golds and aqua blues.
“I like the colors and what it’s saying about the school – that it’s nice, enjoyable, that it’s fun,” seventh grader Samari Hines said.
Samari is one of about 65 students who’ve worked the past three weeks with nationally known artist Catherine Hart to design and paint the mural.
The mural is the signature project of Hart’s tenure this month as visiting artist at Rochelle, a boost for the school’s arts-oriented curriculum made possible by smART Kinston, Penland School of Crafts and the N.C. Arts Council.
Hart first sat down with her student artists the week they returned from spring break.
“We met for the whole first week. We started doing drawing exercises just to get the creative juices flowing and then we started really talking about what was meaningful to them,” she said.
“We talked about how they feel when they come to school versus how they want to feel when the come to school. So we started talking about words that made us feel inspired, alive, things they were really passionate about and we started doing drawings based on all those feelings and chats we were having.”
The result is a 10-by-55-foot mural on a wall students will see when they line up for lunch or wait for their buses at the end of the school day. “There’s a lot of ‘still time’ here,” Hart said. “I think this is where we really wanted to bring it to life, because this is where students could really enjoy it and where it could impact their feelings about their school.”
Because it’s indoors – out of the weather and the potentially damaging effects of sunlight – the mural is being done with “regular interior wall house paint,” Hart said, “so it’s meant to stay on the wall.” The acrylic-based paint dries quickly, which has made painting easier and the process move more quickly, and can be blended readily to create new colors.
In addition to drawing exercises, the student artists learned about creating new hues from the primary colors. “If they don’t see a color they really want to use, they are empowered to mix a new one,” Hart said.
A native of New Jersey, Hart earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the California College of Arts in 2004 before returning east. She has led and assisted mural projects in Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, New Jersey and North Carolina and is assistant director for the Jersey City Summer Youth Public Art Program, where she works with high school students. She is cofounder of the Y’all Art Project, a nonprofit organization that brings a collaborative art process to communities and schools in need of the arts.
“The beauty of Catherine,” Rochelle principal Felicia Solomon said, “is not only has she come in and allowed our students to create art they can see and be proud of, but she has also challenged them to understand they are creators – creators of their destiny, creators of their success, the creators of the choices they make.”
That lesson runs through the school, since groups of sixth, seventh and eighth graders work on the mural in teams, painting for 90 minutes a day during what is normally their time for non-academic, or resource, elective classes.
Their deadline for finishing the mural is next Tuesday – an extremely firm deadline since the principal has already scheduled the unveiling for 5:30 p.m. that day. The public is invited.
“We’re so excited for this to come to life and for the children to put their hands to this work, something they can be proud of,” Solomon said. “What’s so amazing about this is that this is their work. The words that we see are those words that speak to them and what they want to release into the atmosphere at Rochelle.”