Students pass by Brady Mathisen’s, ‘19, mural featuring their classmates. (Photo by Arijit Trivedi)

Mural tradition returns post-lockdown

One of the muralists graduating in 2019 was misidentified. Their name and pronouns have been updated.

The sun is shining on a bright Monday afternoon. It’s the ideal day to hang out with friends or play a sport, but five seniors stay in the art room, planning their last and possibly their biggest project at Country Day. Their goal? To leave their mark on wide campus walls.

Although they are in the early stages of planning, Advanced Placement Studio Art seniors Jesus Aispuro, Zola Grey, Tina Huang, Sicily Schroeder and Lilah Shorey are hoping to add two more murals to the existing two on campus.

The first of the two was painted 4 years ago in the spring of 2018. Lea Gorny ’18, and five ’19 alumni — Grace Naify, Sophia Naylor, Brady Mathisen, Michaela Chen and Mohini Rye — created a mural behind the gym wall and P.E. offices portraying women of color.

The following year, the same five ’19 alumni and Tori Van Vleck, ’19, banded together to create their last mural on campus, “One Line.”

Murals became something of a controversy at Country Day in 2017, when the school painted over three murals from the 1990s because they were fading and peeling.

“The issue was that no one knew that it was going to get painted over, so it kind of created a stir amongst everyone,” art teacher Andy Cunningham said.

In response, those students began to take immediate action.

“They approached the school saying, ‘We’d like to have more murals in the community, and we have seniors that are willing to write up a proposal and do a mural,”’ Cunningham said. “This is how the senior mural project started.”

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, what was becoming an annual tradition was called off.

Cunningham hopes to see the return of the mural-painting this year.

“The way I see it, this senior mural project is for artists who worked in the studio for years, and it’s a really great thing that allows them to leave a legacy or mark on campus,” he said.

Huang said the murals allow Country Day to pull away from an academic focus and to push representation for the school’s art community.

“I feel like it’s always good to show something that we care about,” Huang said. In a way, an underlying purpose of this tradition is to give students an opportunity to put their skills to work, and to give them a chance to contribute to the school, Head of School Lee Thomsen said. These murals are also a way to show the school’s support for the art program and the diversity in the student body.

“It’s a hallmark of a Country Day experience, and we can show that through a visual representation of something that is mission appropriate and is also student-oriented,”
Thomsen said.

That means students are free to choose certain themes and topics they care most about. This year, the five senior muralists are planning to explore two potential themes that include motherhood and Black excellence.

Before they can begin work on the mural, the seniors must submit a written proposal and explanation of the designs and receive the school’s approval.

The school wants to confirm the appropriateness of the murals on campus and if they align with the school’s mission and core values, Thomsen said. Students will also have to keep in mind that children from pre-K to 12 will be walking by it so that might change certain design choices, Cunningham said.

Besides the written proposal and explanation, the school also asks students for recommended or potential locations they have in mind.

While the school is generally permissive with locations, there have been mural suggestions that faced pushback.

“A couple of years back, a student wanted to put a mural along the arches and along the science building,” Cunningham said.

The original idea was an underwater tunnel that submerged students into the ocean as they walked into the arches and into the science classrooms.

“The spot itself wasn’t necessarily seriously claimed off-limits, but the school didn’t want a mural on the science buildings. So, it was essentially pretty much off-limits,” Cunningham said.

The school has also marked the area surrounding the office, the giant wall adjacent to the gym and the freshman lockers as off-limits.

Even so, the school has been working diligently and collaboratively to support the students and the project with alternative locations, said Thomsen.

“There are definitely some spots that we generally like to keep a clean look, like the quad next to the office. But, we are basically willing to consider just about anything, and we’ll go back and forth until we find a location,” he added.

— By Kali Wells and Garrett Xu

Originally published in the March 8 edition of the Octagon.

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