Hayes trio’s waterfall latest mural that ‘brightens up the place’
Eighth-graders Chloe Wade, Samantha Dotson, and Sophia Phan didn’t really know each other before, but after working nearly all semester on a waterfall mural at Edythe J. Hayes Middle School, they now function as a cohesive team with a unified vision for their artwork. “Our first thought was a single fountain, but I wanted to add more,” Chloe recalled. “We all sketched out an idea of what we wanted it to look like, and we’re all bringing talent to the table.” Samantha agreed, noting how she used her skills in shading to add depth to the mountains and sky. “It was interesting to apply things from other areas to create something you never knew you could do,” she said.
The waterfall scene is the latest mural at Hayes, where art teacher Stephen Bennett picks advanced students to add color and interest to the miles of plain block walls. “The idea is getting something a little more out there where students see it all the time so the kids take pride in their school,” he said. “Painting is a significant part of the curriculum – using skills of observation and perception,” he noted. “There are also the leadership benefits when students take initiative for creating a work of art that enhances the school environment.”
Each project takes an entire nine-week period, though sometimes longer. The students will first brainstorm, draw rough drafts, and map out the image on a photograph of their wall space in order to block out the scale. Whoever has the more natural sense for painting usually takes the lead as the project progresses. “Chloe laid out the initial design, and once we started, there wasn’t much arguing. We were a lot more similar in thought than expected,” Samantha said as the trio pressed to finish their project before winter break.
Fittingly, the waterfall cascades down toward two water fountains in the hallway. The blues in the sky complement the school color on nearby walls, and the mountains nearly match the adjacent set of lockers, which makes for a tranquil scene. As the mural developed, the girls applied elements of art and principles of design such as value, contrast, and movement. They also researched how to make the water look like it’s flowing over the edge and how to depict a tree growing out of the uneven ground, though they ran into difficulties with the cracks initially overpowering the rocks. “There’s sensitivity that sometimes takes a while to develop, but they catch on to these things,” Bennett said.
The students have used acrylic paint left over from in-house maintenance projects or donated by local businesses, along with brushes of varying sizes and rollers for establishing the background. The supplies are stored on a small cart that they wheel out of Bennett’s room around the corner for the 50-minute class period. Every art session is also a lesson in time management as the girls must clean up and put away the plastic drop cloth and ladder before the bell rings and the hall fills with students.
Sophia was pleased to contribute to the latest mural, saying, “This is a really good opportunity for a huge project, and it’s a chance to learn more about other techniques. It also brightens up the place.”
Bennett, who sometimes allows additional students to volunteer on murals, said the teams mostly come up with their own ideas. “Sometimes it’s based on a movie or image they have in mind. They take it from there, and sometimes it changes. That’s the communal part of how to come to agreement on what this thing will look like,” he said. “It’s one thing to make an 11-by-14 painting to sit on a desk. To cover a wall with imagery takes a leap of faith. I’ve been amazed at how well students have done. They are self-directed and making it happen themselves.”
Previous years’ diverse murals included a Harry Potter theme with castle and dragon, a Japanese house with flowered path, Japanese lanterns rising at night within a provocative otherworldly landscape, and a landscape with a sleeping panther near the cafeteria. Students have also painted a tree in four seasons on cabinet doors in the Youth Services Center and a lobby bench with the school motto “Learn Daily, Laugh Often, Lead Respectfully, Live Responsibly.”
Sophia said she and all the young artists can look back in amazement, thinking, “Wow! We did that!”