Fueled by community: School mosaic bubbles with creativity

What is the art equivalent of green thumb?

Hood River Middle School eighth-graders have it, whatever it is.

The students spent hours this winter and spring on a mural project paying tribute to growing of food and the people who do it.

Teacher Carol Birdsell and artist Toms Royal worked with the students. The mural is downstairs near the school’s community kitchen, and features a boiling cauldron with local produce both filling and bursting from the pot.

“What we were trying to do was symbolize the function of the test kitchen, using regional foods going in and out of the cauldron,” Royal said. “Instead of a broken-tile mural, the tiles are all hand-made by the students.”

The mural is open for public view each Thursday during the Gorge Grown Farmer’s Market, 4-7 p.m. at the school. Gorge Grown and Community Education host classes in the kitchen each Thursday at 5:30 p.m., for $10; upcoming topics include “Fun with Pesto” on May 9, “Green Smoothies” and “Summertime desserts,” in June.

Register at hrcommunityed.org.

In the cauldron mural, the logs under the pot are engraved with the names of local businesses that sponsored the project, “symbolizing the fuel that kept the project going,” Royal said.

The whole project was done over a course of five or six classes, beginning with the design and template creation in the first class, moving on in the second class to the actual cutting of the shapes out of slabs of clay, and carving textures into some of the pieces to give them some relief.

In the third class, students buffed and cleaned the tile before it was bisque fired, then did the glazing in class four.

“There was so much involved in the glazing process; the students worked with color and texture and learned some layering techniques, to create colors with more depth,” Royal said.

Once glazed, the tiles were baked again and the students worked on layout in the fifth class.

“There were a lot of lessons in this stage,” Royal said. “They learned how different shapes fit together, how to create more depth with scaling of different sizes, and learned about grouping.

“Things in nature, in life, tend to group with similar things, so the kids were playing with that and with the colors and shapes for the overall design,” he said.

“They learned how to arrange the tiles to give dynamic movement, poetry, really, and make it a work of art — how do individual parts come together to form a whole?”

There were about 40 students in the first class, designing and drawing templates for the local products that would be featured in the mosaic —not only produce like beans, cabbage, corn, tomatoes and fruits, but meats like chicken and bacon, too.

There were about 30 kids cleaning tiles in the third class, and Birdsell said the number had to be whittled down as the project went on because of the nature of each stage.

“You can’t get that many hands in the small amount of space,” she said. “So we picked the kids who were really hard-working and motivated, and by the time we did the layout there were about 10 kids.”

On the last day — grouting — the number of students was down to eight.

The concept for the mural came from Royal, but the production was all done by the students.

“It was definitely a collaborative effort,” Royal said. “They were a great group of kids to work with.”

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