Blackwell mural captures the spirit of the northwest
May 7, 2013
By Lillian O'Rorke
Elizabeth Blackwell Elementary School is about to get a whole lot more colorful.
For the last several months, students there have given up recess time to work on a mural of the Pacific Northwest, which is set to be unveiled May 17.
Stretching across three large canvases, there are orcas, rain clouds, tents, figures flying kites and even a unicorn coming together to represent the region.
“I think it’s a wonderful project for our school, and I think our school definitely needs art,” said 9-year-old Katie Kotler. “I think it’s very important to express our feelings, and I think we really need just a lot of emotion in our school.”
Led by the PTSA and parent volunteers, the bulk of the mural has been done by the students themselves.
“There is just something about kid art and the way they apply paint, the way they think – that really, adults can’t duplicate,” said April Phillips, who has two sons at Blackwell and has donated her artistic skills to the project. “And that’s a really special ability that they have, that somehow we lose it as we grow up. And to kind of catch that moment in time when they are free to express themselves and free with the brush strokes and the ideas and stuff, is really important.”
Phillips designed the background, complete with the Seattle Skyline and Mount Rainer then had the children create the individual elements, like the rocket that shoots into the sky and the scuba diver who swims in Puget Sound.
To do that she made a list of items that the students could choose to sign up for. Originally, Phillips said, she expected around 80 children, but ended up with more than 150 wanting to contribute to the mural.
To accommodate them all, the elements were scaled down so that more of them could be fit in.
“I want the kids to have ownership and pride when they come back years from now and say that ‘I designed that, and I painted it, and that’s my piece of this puzzle,” Phillips said.
Much of the items that the children chose to work on reflected their interests. Second-grader Zoe Collins said that she added
a soccer ball to the mural because that’s the sport she plays.
“It’s really cool because it’s all art, and I love art so much,” Collins said. “It’s how I have fun, like I draw with my sisters and my friends all the time.”
10-year-old Ana Hiciano painted a fish, she said, because she really likes the ocean and all the other sea creatures were taken.
Oliver Conboy-Smith and his friend Hayden Alcorn painted several things, including a fence with a spider web and astronauts up in the sky.
“It was like a camera on the ground level and you had like the blades of grass sticking up then there was a white fence and like a tree. And there was a sunset,” explained Alcorn.
The astronauts, they added, were included because the two wanted to do something in space.
“It’s fun to spend your time doing art and if you are making something with your friends. It’s really fun,” said Conboy-Smith.
Even though she is still in fourth grade, Anja Bullen said she is already looking forward to coming back as an adult and admiring her and her classmates’ work.
“It’s going to be cool because it’s going to be hung in front of the school, and so, it’s like a piece of everyone’s artwork in front of the school,” she said. “It’s exciting. It’s nice to try something new because we haven’t really done this stuff before.”
Mike Anderson, the school’s principal, said that he has done similar projects at previous schools he worked at, but Blackwell’s is the most organized, kid-centered one he has seen.
“Partly it’s because this community has people who really love the arts and are looking at making this a special place for their kids,” he said. “I absolutely love it. It is wonderful to have a PTA and a group of parents, who come together and work with students on a project like this.”
Walking around the school, Anderson said he is hoping to fill the building with permanent student artwork.
“I love the fact that this mural will be up for 10 or 15 years,” he said. “These kids will be off to college, they might even be having their own kids and they get to come back to their school right on the front of the school will be their picture.”
The mural is set to be unveiled to the entire Blackwell community at 2:30 p.m. May 17 during the school’s walk-a-thon, “Bobcat Strut.” Along with the fundraiser, the fourth and fifth grade classes will host a student-run carnival.