For the first time in 15 years, a new mural has been installed at Rhodes Elementary School by the students, with the help of The Artists’ Exchange, the staff at Rhodes and several parent volunteers.
"This was our biggest space that could handle this type of mural," said parent volunteer Martha Chambers of the upstairs hallway near the intermediate classrooms.
The three-dimensional mural is six feet tall and 40 feet long and more than 100 students in both the fifth and sixth grades worked on the project, a legacy that will last for years to come.
Brian Medeiros, an artist from The Artists’ Exchange who works in ceramics, sculpture, pottery and "anything involving clay," came to the school in January to help the students work on their individual pieces for the mural. Although he works with this type of artistic medium often, the Rhodes project is his first mural.
An ocean theme had been chosen, given the school's close proximity to Narragansett Bay.
"We have the influence of the Bay, as we live so close to it," Chambers said. "We tried to connect science to this project as well.”
The project was purposely open-ended. Initially there were sessions of brainstorming and then sketching before the students got their hands on any clay.
"The students could work either as individuals or in groups. We talked about creating animals, corals, rocks, snails, schools of fish, ships; as long as they had depth," Chambers said.
Some of the pieces, such as the ship and a yellow submarine, were so large that they had to be cut in half to be worked on and adhered.
Once the clay pieces had been created, they had to be painted, fired and glazed. Finally, the pieces were adhered to the wall on April 5, with each classroom having a chance to help with this important step.
The placement of each piece was just as important as the creation of the pieces. Thought was given to the best location before it was cemented to the wall.
"We even have turtles swimming in the jet stream," said Chambers.
The students enjoyed the mural project every step of the way.
"My favorite part was when we had to pop it out to make it 3-D, make it into a figure," said Anthony Silvestri.
Jack Tashian can't wait to do a project such as this one again.
"This was an amazing experience, very fun," he said. "I can't wait to do it again. My favorite part was painting it, but I really liked the whole thing.”
The next step will be adding real sand to the bottom of the "ocean," along with shells and sea glass from the Bay.
"The fourth graders will be able to add to this next year, and they're already excited about it," said Chambers.
Art teacher Mary Greim-Gallo was pleased with the teamwork and collaboration involved at all levels.
"The kids did such a great job and it was nice to see all of the different grades come together," she said.
When the mural is complete for the school year, an official Art Night will be held so that the community can come in and see the mural.
"This project was really cool, we're going to have a great turnout," said Katie Chambers, Martha’s daughter.