Lippitt mural helps foster community among students

Posted 9/28/23

Hexagons: a symbol seen often in nature; the building blocks of many different integral functions such as the cells of trees and the individual parts of a honeycomb.

That’s  precisely …

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Lippitt mural helps foster community among students


Hexagons: a symbol seen often in nature; the building blocks of many different integral functions such as the cells of trees and the individual parts of a honeycomb.

That’s  precisely why Peter Geisser and Mika Seeger chose hexagons as the building blocks of their mosaic mural at Lippitt Elementary School.

Geisser, Seeger and Jade Donaldson finished the grouting process of the mural on Monday. Grouting, which involves placing cement in between the mural’s tiles, is one of the final processes that this mural will undergo before it’s finished.

To truly finish creating the mural, Geisser said three final pieces will be placed into the wall by the oldest and youngest students, as well as a randomly chosen teacher to foster a sense of community within the school in a ceremony tentatively set for Oct. 6.

Geisser and Seeger have worked  together for 20 years, and produced eight murals together. Their work together first began when Geisser had to quit his job at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, where he had been teaching for 35 years, because he developed carpal tunnel syndrome, making it difficult to communicate with his students. When approached about work on a mural at India Point Park in Providence, he recommended Seeger, who in turn said that she wanted to work with him despite his condition.

“You said ‘I can’t lift anything over five pounds,’” Seeger said. “I promised I’d lift anything you wanted over five pounds. I dragged him back into this.”

According to Warwick Public Schools Director of Federal Grants Paul Heatherton, the mural was created as part of a $250,000 grant from the School Building Authority Capital Fund’s ARTS initiative. The grant is also funding the repair and purchase of musical instruments, audio/visual equipment, artists in residents and sculptures, among other things.

Students in Kim Gallman’s art class produced many of the pieces that went into the mural. Seeger and Geisser visited Gallman’s class in March, and glazed and fired pieces students made from April to July. The grass is largely made up of student hands, and the central tree’s hexagons were largely created by students as well.

Visually, the mural includes many of Warwick’s landmarks, including the Conimicut Lighthouse, T.F. Green, City Hall and the Aldrich Mansion. In the foreground are a group of leopards, Lippitt’s mascot. Other design elements were added by the students, such as a UFO over a plane flying out of the airport, and incorporated by the artists.

According to Gallman, getting to work with the two was a great experience, and building the mural was done with creativity and building a community in mind.

“They made one thing, but they put another thing up on the wall that wasn’t theirs necessarily,” Gallman said.

Since the work on the mural started, Lippitt has graduated a fifth-grade class and welcomed in a new group of kindergarteners, as well as a new principal, Erick Pagan.

Students’ handiwork can be found throughout the mural- in the hexagons that make up the mural’s tree, in some of the objects making up the mural’s sky and in their hands, which make up the mural’s grass.

The mural was to have been completed over the summer. However, due to heat and other adverse weather, Seeger and Geisser needed a bit longer to finish the project.

Seeger, though, is happy it turned out the way it did.

“The kids would walk in this doorway, not all of the population, but some, plus the parents, plus the teachers,” Seeger said. “They could actually see how much real, physical labor this is. It’s so much better that they were actually able to see us working on it.”

The mural, according to Geisser, is built as a mosaic because of their longevity. Geisser said that making sure the mosaic was as durable as possible was important for this project, mainly to show students that they can build something that lasts a long time.

Experiential learning is of paramount importance for Geisser, and getting the opportunity to provide students with such an experience meant a lot to him.

“So much of education is secondhand,” Geisser said. “You don’t take a walk in the woods. You might read Thoreau, but you’re not taking a walk in the woods. Some would say ‘No, you need to take a walk in the woods, then you need to come back and read Thoreau, and then go back to the woods.’ And that’s how humans actually learn.”

With their experience, Geisser and Seeger have seen the impacts of murals that they have put up in other schools. Seeger said that she has in the past heard stories from the grandchildren of elementary schoolers who assisted artists with similar projects in the past, having heard stories from them about building a mural.

While it will be a while before anyone at Lippitt will be doing that, the impact of the mural on the school’s community, Geisser said, can already be felt.

“When we were working in the middle of the summer, the kids in the neighborhood would be driving by on bicycles,” Seeger said. “Some of them were checking up on this every day.”

While Geisser and Seeger have done a lot of the work on the mural, what Geisser ultimately finds most special is the impact of the work of the students and how it helped build community among them.

“It is terrific that every kid claims it,” Seeger said. “You are looking at thousands of fragments of little pieces of clay, and every kid in this school owns it.”


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