When I first saw Country Day’s Chalk Mural in seventh grade, it was magical to me that high schoolers could create such beautiful imitations of famous works of art. The students who worked on the squares seemed to me mind-blowingly talented and skilled. It didn’t occur to me that I’d ever be able to do anything that even approached the quality of their work. In eighth grade, when some of my friends were choosing St. Francis for high school, I felt that the Chalk Mural alone should have justified staying at Country Day.
During my freshman year, one teacher let me go to help out. Even the tiny contributions I made were exciting the first year of high school. Last year, I was an assistant, which was a lot of fun. I worked on it for several hours, but I mostly concentrated on the sky, as the squaremaster wanted to do the hard parts on her own.
This year, I had my own square for the first time.
I was horribly nervous about messing it up. Not only would my square be compared to the pieces by all the fantastic artists in my class, but Gregory Kondos, this year’s artist, would be there to note how much better his original was.
It didn’t take me long to realize how silly I was being. No part of my square was quite accurate, but the chalk blended so nicely that it looked good anyway, and something about mixing colors to find just the right shade was extremely satisfying to my obsessive side.
Within an hour, I was less concerned about how my piece would turn out than I was about how much the rough concrete was hurting my fingers. I wore holes in two gloves and a Band-Aid before giving up on comfort. My back and legs hurt, too, but the difficulty only made it more gratifying to watch more and more color appear as the piece took shape.
By the end of the day, I was pleased–but not quite satisfied–with the result. Now that I had worked on a square myself, some of the magic of the Chalk Mural was gone. I was too picky not to notice the many places in which the shapes weren’t quite right. It felt unnatural to let it go, but I was sore and tired enough to gladly let some flaws slide. I was also amazed that I had finished. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t perfect.
Easily the best part of the day was listening to the groups of lower and middle schoolers who came to see the mural. When I heard them say “wow” in awed voices, remark that they loved all the pieces and excitedly point out their favorites, I realized that they were seeing what I saw before I was one of the people doing the work and making the mistakes.
Three days later, I can’t decide whether I’m happy that my square is almost intact, or irritated that there are footprints on it. On the bright side, I have my rubbed raw and weirdly discolored fingers as a souvenir. But the most exciting part is that when I take a step back, I can see why the Chalk Mural was so incredible to me in seventh grade.