Michael Maclay stood before the large white mystery hanging on the concrete wall.
Hints of color peeked through the gauzy paper screen Monday as the Easterly Parkway Elementary School principal heightened the suspense.
“What we have behind us is a fantastic example of what we can do when we work together,” he said to gathered students, parents and teachers.
Minutes later, he and PTO President Laurel Martin unveiled the school’s latest source of pride. To applause, off came the rustling paper to reveal a striking 27-foot abstract tile mural mostly made by third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in the spring.
Sponsored by the PTO, the 71/2-foot high mural’s angular design adorns the plaza for the school’s bus entrance. The piece includes more than 180 square ceramic tiles, along with tile fragments, all covered in various shades of glaze and mounted on a plywood backing.
Each 6-inch square tile bears a unique abstract or representational design, giving the mural a sense of being two pieces rolled into one. Artist-in-residence Karen Lintner, a retired art teacher who designed and led the mural, called it “art within art.”
“Because when somebody sees it from afar, they see the whole thing,” she said. “But when you look closer and closer, you see more individual pieces.”
As Maclay described, the mural represents a true collaborative effort.
Martin came up with the idea and approached art teacher Candace Smith. In turn, Smith recruited Lintner, a close friend and former colleague.
The PTO provided about $900 for materials and a $1,000 honorarium for Lintner. Once Lintner completed her design in March, she, Smith and art paraprofessional Dottie Markle directed the students while they decorated, glazed and fired tiles.
Teachers and staff members made tiles as well. More help came from Smith’s husband, Phil Hawk, a noted stonemason who lent technical expertise. The couple also chipped in an invaluable tile cutter.
Over the summer and up to the past two weeks, Lintner and company put in long hours preparing the installation.
And then on Monday, they could relax and enjoy the compliments.
“I feel it is absolutely perfect for the surface and for this school,” Smith said. “It’s completely fitting for the colors and design of the school and the space we have.”
Martin said she first thought of a mural three years ago, inspired by the memory of helping create a collective art project back in middle school.
“I just thought that was such a great way to leave our mark, and we were so proud to contribute to the school,” Martin said.
Until this year, though, her proposal to do the same at Easterly never got off the ground. Once the PTO approved the project and secured permission from the school district, the wheels started rolling.
Now that the mural is a reality, Martin can’t say enough about Lintner’s creativity.
“She took an idea and, through her vision, turned it into something much more than we thought it would be,” Martin said.
Lintner said her design, while abstract, evokes the free-spirited energy of children playing. The project certainly kept her hopping.
As if supervising classes while keeping track of intricate charts of glazing combinations wasn’t tiring enough, she paid many a late-night or early-morning visit to the school art room.
“This was so open-ended,” Lintner said. “Nobody could do this without being retired because it was so many hours.”
Her artists took pride in the final result.
“I think it turned out really well,” said sixth-grader Betsy Hunter, returning to see her handiwork. “I’m really impressed. I think the colors work really well together.”
Ohnyoo Park, also a sixth-grader, showed a visitor his pattern of interlocking shapes.
“I just kind of made it a puzzle,” he said. “I wanted every single piece to be different.”
Another sixth-grader, Willow Martin, enjoyed the teamwork with her classmates.
“It was really cool that everybody could have their own tiles and it would be all one big thing,” she said.
For sixth-grader Charlie Herlocher, the best part is “knowing I can come back next year and see it.” Will Kerber, a fifth-grader, shares the feeling.
“It’s cool,” he said. “If I come back and don’t remember things, I can say I remember making this.”
Lintner and Smith hope the mural graces the school for many years to come.
Some public art, Smith said, eventually becomes dated. She doesn’t see that happening at Easterly.
“This is timeless and universal,” she said.
That’s what Lintner intended.
“I wanted something that would be beautiful, that nobody would want to tear it down,” she said. “It belongs in the space that it’s in.”