Last week I attended a dedication ceremony for a mural at Collins Elementary. Over one hundred families and teachers donated to the mural project, and a plaque honoring the donors was presented at the event. We celebrated the success of the project which was the brain child of 5th-grade teacher, Chris Nutter.
It is tempting to imagine something “out there” (person, place or thing) is going to come and make our lives better. The truth is, the raw materials for making life better (care, creativity, generosity…) are completely in our hands. This concept is well understood and embodied by the project instigator, Chris. A few years ago he transformed a neglected corner of the school into a native habitat garden, recruiting student and community volunteers to the cause. Today, the blooms and harvest are a source of delight and education for the whole school community. Last year, Chris had an idea for another beautification project: A school mural.
In recent years, traditional educational priorities (obedience, memorization) have shifted towards a greater emphasis on critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. Teachers understand there are a diversity of learning styles. It turns out that incorporating play into the learning process is one of the most effective teaching methods. However, the physical structures of schools, built decades prior with heavy, functional buildings and monochromatic colors don’t echo the revised educational pedagogy. Murals are a great way to nudge the needle from an institutional, impersonal environment towards a more human-centered and inviting campus.
Mr. Nutter had the idea to include the entire student body into the mural-making process by inviting each class to contribute drawings around a specific theme (including challenge, excellence, perseverance, community, citizenship, creativity, friendship, and kindness), which I incorporated into a rainbow banner. Collins has a special class for visually impaired students in the district, so it made sense to create a work of art that was accessible to all. I first “painted” the student designs and banner in caulk, so it is raised from the wall. I chose a rainbow palette to ensure the artwork would emanate good vibes. I wanted the corridor to give off the friendly benefits of color not just for the kids, but for the pride that a vibrant environment gives for the teachers, parents, and neighbors that pass through it. Inspired by the native plantings throughout the school (and also as a good excuse to add more color) I included bouquets of native flowers on either side of the mural. The center of the 50-foot long mural depicts the original Collins schoolhouse, opened in 1869.
The teachers I know are some of the hardest working people I know. It astounds me that Mr. Nutter, running a fifth grade class and father of two young kids, found time to coordinate all the details of this project, including gaining approvals from the school and district, fundraising, and coordinating the student art aspect with the art teacher. It was a pleasure to work with the enthusiasm of Mr. Nutter. It warmed my heart to see the school community come together on this school beautification project, and then to celebrate the successful outcome of their efforts.
One Hundred Feet of Fun in Mendocino
The wildfires have been on my mind this week, both the displaced households and the firefighters. I am so grateful the weather has improved and, at this moment, the Kinkaid fire is mostly contained. I spent a week in Mendocino county mid-October painting a mural on the side of a barn in Hopland for Beckstoffer Vineyards. I fell in love, (again, every time) with the beauty of the wine country. Every morning and evening I drove the particularly breathtaking stretch of the 101 between Hopland and Ukiah. Rolling, oak-covered hills, farmhouses and estate wineries that glowed with the warm morning and evening light of long shadows, purple layers of mountains, pops of orange on the curves of the hills. I hoped the visuals I took in during the drive would inspire the artwork, but honestly, I felt mocked. Paint can’t do it justice. That didn’t stop me from trying.
The mural features the original farmhouse that was on the first wine grape growing property that Mr. Beckstoffer bought almost 50 years ago. He lived there as he slowly expanded his operations, which today includes over 4000 acres of vineyards across three counties: Mendocino, Lake County and Napa.
If you are interested in both wine and climate change, last week CBS profiled Mr. Beckstoffer’s collaboration with UC Davis to address climate change impact on viticulture.
I was chatting with the farm’s foreman after a long day of painting and was just starting to boast about how hard I had worked that day when I stopped, midsentence, arrested by the clear realization: How I might sound to this seasoned farmer in the middle of harvest. I don’t think I even want to know his definition of hard work, but I am certain it would be unfamiliar to me and more than I would sign up for. Despite much of the staff dealing with evacuation and lost power, they successfully pulled in the last of the harvest early this week.
You can see this mural from the 101 Highway, on your right if you are heading north, just as you leave the town of Hopland, CA.
I am grateful for the many corners of the world that I get to visit through my art making. Painting murals is fun, but it’s the people I get to meet that are the best.
Enjoy your harvest season.