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Pottery Students Complete Ceramic Mural

Cyndi Len loves art. George Wilson loves books. They both love the movie “Pleasantville.” Thus was a mural born.

The 1998 film is about two teenagers who get trapped in a 1950s’ TV sitcom. As they push the social boundaries of the TV show’s conformist world, the show changes from black-and-white to color.  

Len, a Rockford High School art teacher, and Wilson, the school’s media specialist, thought the concept offered a perfect theme for a library mural: shelves of black-and-white books transforming into fanciful color images produced by the readers’ imaginations.

The result: “From Pages – Imagined,” a ceramic mural created by high school pottery students over six months. School officials recently held a reception to celebrate its completion.

“To me, the most wonderful thing about it is this is a group of students who not only learned, but learned to work together and collaborate,” says Len, who teaches advanced pottery. “That’s real life, isn’t it?”

Wilson commissioned the mural as a way to breathe new visual vitality into the library while giving students a sense of ownership.

“It’s telling students and staff, this is your library,” Wilson says. “This is your space.”

Funding for the ArtsPanels high on the library walls symbolize the fanciful figures of readers’ imaginations

The mural was funded by several sources: the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, LowellArts! and the Rockford Education Foundation with help from the Ram Café, a coffee shop in the library.

The financial backing typifies the value Rockford and its schools place on fine arts, said Kathy McDonald, an art teacher for 30 years.

“The community’s very supportive of the arts,” says McDonald, whose beginning pottery students helped create the mural.

Len, a veteran teacher who has overseen other murals in the district, prepared students for the project by having them study surrealism, realism and colorful artists such as Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. Students also watched portions of “Pleasantville.”

“There was a lot of teaching that went into this,” Len says.

She enlisted the help of her husband David Len, scenic designer at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, as well as Rockford artist Karla Galvin, to consult for the multi-phased mural. The wooden frames were built at Civic Theatre. Students laid clay into the frames, cut and grouted the pieces and fired them in the school kiln.

Students worked on the mural during the school year and even after it ended, including students who had graduated. The piece was completed July 2.

A Permanent Presence of Art

Beginning pottery students made many of the ceramic book spines stacked on simulated shelves. They have no titles; instead their contents are suggested by figures such as a raven, a violin and a yin-yang symbol.

Wilson said he specified the books have no words to give them “a sense of timelessness. It could be any book in your imagination.”

The books break apart into imaginative shapes and characters high on the library walls, illustrating the creative process of literature. Says Len, “That’s where your imagination goes.”

Those large pieces were created by seven advanced or independent pottery students: Noah Braun, Sophie Burnett, Hannah Rierson, Kyle Rinzler, Miya Rodriguez, Kourtney Roggow and Eli’Sheari Taylor.

It was all very interesting for Miya Rodriguez, who says ceramics is one of her favorite art forms. The recent graduate created a panel showing an open book with human forms emerging from it.

Miya will be working for AmeriCorps this year, but is happy to know a piece of her creativity will remain in Rockford.

“I liked that I got to make something that gets to stay in here,” she says. 

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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