It’s 8 p.m. on March 28. Most Country Day students are either touring colleges back east or visiting Aunt Sarah in Hawaii. But one remains at school. Behind the physical education office stands senior Lea Gorny, tirelessly tracing her new 20-foot mural under the stars.
On March 21 the Board of Trustees approved Gorny’s mural proposal, which she had spent weeks designing, discussing and planning.
“It began in December with a meeting about possible locations,” Gorny said.
“After that, I came back to (head of school Lee) Thomsen with a design and proposal on why the school should allow me to paint the mural.”
Gorny said that her goal was to come up with a design that was cohesive with the Country Day community.
“I went through a lot of trial and error,” Gorny said.
“I knew I wanted to represent women of color in the mural, so I started there.”
The final design contained the faces of two women of color and a background filled with moons and galaxies.
“The moons represent changing times,” Gorny said.
“And the two faces represent that it is time for women of color to be a part of art and the world.”
Gorny said the bottom left face is a depiction of her friend and former SCDS student Nicole Moxon, who is now a senior at Lake Travis High School in Lake Travis,, Texas. The second face is a photograph from photographer Curt Sanders’s portfolio.
In her proposal to the school, Gorny explained the significance of having two women of color in her mural. She also included an excerpt from a critical review article about the representation of women in art.
Gorny decided on the gym wall behind the P.E. office as the optimal location for her mural.
“We were told that the other location, where the old mural was, was too upfront,” Gorny said.
“So this was the next best option. The wall is in a more central location and can be seen from both the middle school quad and the high school science building.
“It seemed perfect as it was also spacious and quite flat.”
After submitting the proposal and a photoshopped picture of the mural on that wall to the administration on March 2, Gorny waited patiently for a response for a couple of weeks.
“Even if it were quick, it would have taken months to get to the point of painting,” AP Studio Art teacher Andy Cunningham said.
“It takes a while to get everything organized. You got to come up with a design, argue with people and photoshop all before you even get to the point of painting.”
Thomsen said that Gorny handled the whole process extremely well.
“I took her proposal to the administrative team meeting and got their thoughts and ideas about the proposal,” Thomsen said. “Everyone was super supportive.”
Gorny had only about a week before she started painting.
“It was crazy,” Gorny said.
“We had to quickly get a large, high-quality projector to project my design on the wall so I could trace it at night.
“We then had to gather all the paints and other supplies.”
According to Gorny, the maintenance department paid for all the paint, and the rest of the supplies were paid for with the $2,000 left in the art department budget.
The first step was tracing the design on the wall.
“It was really difficult because it was at night, and the ladder was really unstable,” Gorny said.
The next day the three AP art students began the painting process.
“We started by busting out all the base colors,” Gorny said.
“(Junior) Grace (Naify) and (senior) Riya (Rampalli) came to help with those base colors.”
The first day the students worked from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The next two days they worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Other students that worked on the mural included juniors Sophie Naylor, Mohini Rye, Bella Mathisen and Michaela Chen.
Naylor said she learned a lot from the painting process.
“When you’re painting on a big scale, you have to learn to be bold and just put colors out there,” Naylor said.
“You have to freehand mostly, which is a great learning experience.”
Chen added that she learned how to use spray paint, a technique she had never done before.
Cunningham said there is great value in painting on such a large scale.
“It’s huge when you think about it,” he said.
“It’s a whole different space and medium that you working in. You don’t get to see what you’re working on until you take a step back.”
He added that the students had to learn to overcome their fear of not always being perfect.
“The students learned how to work quickly and not have as much fear about failing, as I told them they could always paint over it,” Cunningham said.
“They had to break that mechanism of first-time best-time.”
However, the students were not alone in this process. Sacramento muralist Franceska Gamez came back to advise the students during the first two days of painting.
On Jan. 12, Gamez had come to the AP Studio Art class to help the students scout potential mural locations. She even offered to teach the students new art techniques that could be used on the mural. This was an offer that the students gladly accepted.
“Gamez helped us figure out where to start,” Gorny said.
“After that, she taught us how to use spray paint and helped us to not focus on the details and look at the big picture.”
After three days of hard work, the 20-foot mural was complete.
“Relief washed over my body when we were finally done,” Gorny said.
“There are definitely things I think we need to fix, but I don’t think anybody will notice.”
The last step was for students to varnish the mural to protect and seal it and to sign their names at the bottom.
“I was also thinking about adding a quote from the article that inspired the mural,” Gorny said.
“This way students can have something to read in addition to see and experience.”
When students and teachers arrived at school on Monday, April 2, they were full of compliments about the mural.
“I love all the colors and the way all the colors fit with each other,” junior Brandy Riziki said.
“It’s a good way of showing the school is accepting of all kinds of people.”
Dean of student life Patricia Jacobsen said she was speechless.
“It’s so colorful and beautiful. I was just blown away,” she said.
“There’s this idea in Japanese culture about the lotus flower. It grows out of the mud and murky waters, representing that beautiful things can come from unfortunate beginnings.
“It’s really sad (the administration) painted over the old murals, but because of that, we got a beautiful new one.”
Chen said she liked the mural’s message.
“As a woman of color, I was inspired by the message,” she said.
“It shows that women of color are powerful and beautiful.”
Thomsen added that the mural reflects the values of the community.
“What I loved about it was Lea took into account the kind of messages we are trying to convey here at Country Day,” Thomsen said.
“The mural really reflects who we are as a community and who we aspire to be.”
Head of high school Brooke Wells agreed.
“There’s this theory called ‘windows and mirrors,’ where a school should provide through books, art and other mediums ways for students to reflect and look into the lives of other people,” he said.
“This mural does exactly that. It celebrates women of color, and we have plenty of them here at Country Day.”
English teacher Jason Hinojosa was also impressed.
“I really enjoyed it on an artistic level, a contextual level and an institutional level,” he said
“I felt like the two women of color spoke to the theme of my AP English course, which is marginalized individuals and groups. “
Because of this, Hinojosa took two of his senior English courses to see the mural and reflect on it.
“What I also loved about it was that the mural shows that our school is supportive of students’ ideas and art,” he said.
Cunningham, however, believes the power of the mural may eventually fade.
“At least for now, it will be something students can look at and think about,” he said.
“It may become background noise later, and people may not even notice it. But the image and story associated with it has impact in and of itself.”
Cunningham said the mural will inspire not only students but also the artists who painted it.
“It has a huge impact on the students who painted it,” Cunningham said.
“The students didn’t just have to do the art, they had to argue for it and convince the administration that it was worthy for the school campus.
“(And) it teaches them skills that may help them later in life if they are ever submitting their art for competitions and trying to get it seen.”
Gorny agreed that the experience was invaluable.
“I learned that if you pursue something and work hard, it will always be worth it in the end,” she said.
“I was even working with non-artistic people, so I had to fight hard for my art and what I believed in.”
Many students and teachers hope this mural is a step in the right direction for further murals on campus.
“I hope this mural will have a contagious effect in sparking conversation about more art and murals in empty spaces on campus,” Cunningham said.
“I think the mural is beautiful where it is, but I would like another one in a more public place,” she said.
“There are other places on campus that can benefit from art, and that’s coming from a math teacher.
“My walk to school every day is full of color, but that needs to spread to other parts of campus.”
Riziki was disappointed, though, with the new mural’s location.
“It doesn’t make sense to put a mural in the back of the school where no one can see it,” Riziki said.
“It should be in the front where everyone can see and experience its message.”
The AP Art students are next looking to paint a mural on the wall next to the weight room.
“In my talks with Thomsen, I was petitioning for next year’s seniors to each get to paint their own mural,” Gorny said.
“Even if some of them want to collaborate on one together, I hope they will each get to paint and design one.”
Jacobsen suggested a large mural on the back of the Frank Science Center that could be viewed by all grades.
Even though many believe the mural location is not ideal, they agree the message is powerful.
“Inclusivity and power were the two words that came to mind when I first saw it,” Wells said.
—By Jack Christian
Originally published in the April 10 edition of the Octagon.