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Students Leave a Legacy to Last, in Clay

Create Hallway Mural Meant to ‘Tell Our Story’

To celebrate the gifts and talents of high school students past and present, art students have created a “mural of admiration” that was installed on blank wall in a first-floor high school hallway.

The group mural was conceived by social studies teacher Kyle VanderWall, who sought to create a lasting legacy honoring alumni. It became known as the Legacy Project.

The tangible goal was to celebrate the successes of the school’s finest, but an intangible thing happened when the students fell in love with the process of learning the principles of art and design.

By making hundreds of clay tiles utilizing form, line, shape and texture, students unleashed their creativity. Art teachers Debra Kreuyer and Derek Johnson were tasked with bringing the creative project to life to add some visual interest in the first-floor locker bank.

“At the beginning, we talked about what is a legacy,” said sophomore Aziah Johnson as she positioned a clay coil into her tile. “And how we’ll create our own legacy by making the legacy wall.”

A student of art teacher Derek Johnson uses his finger to smooth out clay after adding pieces
A student of art teacher Derek Johnson uses his finger to smooth out clay after adding pieces

Art on Purpose

Freshmen Amanda Hallenbeck and Emma Zolnierek found their square clay tiles arranged in neat rows along the window countertop. The girls fetched their supplies: grayish, groggy-looking clay, Dixie cups for water, tools for shaping, pencils, marker caps and straws.

Intently and carefully, they created spheres to be attached using “slip-and-scoring” methods — roughing up and wetting the joined surfaces. They knew that going too deep might crack the tile when it’s fired, and too light might cause the design to get lost when glazing.

Amanda pinched a clay gumball-like sphere into place as she incorporated additive and subtractive techniques. “There are certain points of design that we need to hit, to make sure we’re on the right path,” she said.

Sophomore Gavin Nem placed a terrific sketch of his legacy square next to his clay square and dabbed his fingertips with a bit of water. To maintain a high level of aesthetics, the art teachers asked the students to pencil-sketch out their designs before they started.

“I’m trying to keep the clay from drying out because I want it moist so it’s easier to work with,” said Gavin, using his finger to smooth out a bit of clay.

Unique decorative clay tile with repetitions of circular designs

Making Art, Building Community

Teacher Debra Kreuyer gave her students a constructive critique. “The tiles came out beautifully, but I discovered in second hour that some of the gumballs (spheres) are turning into snowmen, robots and things like that,” she said. “No. Remember, we’re making a nonobjective piece of art that is going to be part of our legacy mural, and you’re leaving your imprint on Grandville High.”

Kreuyer, along with Johnson, sought to create a sense of Grandville Bulldog responsibility and ownership, while teaching the students the six elements of design: line, shape, color/value, texture, form and space.

“An important part of an art education is learning the principles of design,” Kreuyer told her interior design class. “We’re after a high aesthetic design from the start. We might apply a few finishing touches but we want the tiles to come out nice.” The students self-graded their work based on the design elements, creativity and craftsmanship.

Senior Bryce Cassell studied his three-dimensional square tile as he tweaked a few bits. “We made our own designs so that was cool,” Bryce said.

After the tiles were fired and glazed, the teachers laid 160 tiles on the floor, working to arrange the colors into an harmonious and balanced pattern. With the limited color variation, assembling the uniquely individual tiles was like putting together a puzzle.

Once arranged, the tiles formed a beautifully cohesive design, reminding all that the classroom should be a place for memorable learning.

“The mural turned out great, and I can’t wait to see the talents of our students in the future with additional murals,” Kreuyer said.

A Visible Celebration

Principal John Philo sees the legacy project as a student-led collaboration that celebrates the school’s bright and shining identity.

“If you walk around our building — and it’s a beautiful building — you’ll notice that we don’t tell our story,” Philo said. “We don’t have a military wall and we should. We don’t have a distinguished alumni wall, and we should. We celebrate our athletics, which is great, but what else should we celebrate? What legacy are we leaving that 30 years down the road the people will say, ‘So that is what Grandville is about.’

“Magic happens in a school building when the students, teachers and parents believe that it’s theirs,” Philo added. “When they are empowered to do great things, they will do that. With 1,800 kids it can be hard to make sure that they believe that all of this is theirs.

“So we have to be very intentional about the stories that we tell” — a story he says the legacy wall tells very well.

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