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BY HELAINA N. HOVITZ | Lower Manhattan has always been home to successful artists, but the newest generation may just be the cutest.
On Mon., Sept. 10, the Battery Park City School (P.S./I.S. 276) unveiled a massive art installation of their own making. “The Four Seasons Mural,” created by all 600 students as a tribute to what they referred to as Lower Manhattan’s promising future, took about six months and $25,000 to complete. Work on the mural began in January and continued through August.
The project, sponsored by Brookfield Properties, was brought to fruition by Operation Design, a nonprofit organization that pairs architects, designers and artists with public school students to help them create meaningful projects. Brookfield raised the funds through an event the company co-hosted last fall with SpiN Galactic and Operation Design. P.S. 276 was selected because the faculty was “enthusiastic” and able to encourage student participation, according to Naomi Schoenfeld, a spokesperson for the school.
Under the watchful eye of artist Edgar Gonzalez, school faculty and 40 other volunteers spent a total of 5,000 hours helping students create and paint ceramic tiles, which they proceeded to assemble in the school’s lobby. Each child painted at least one tile within the cityscape to form illustrations of the school and the surrounding buildings in all four seasons of the calendar year.
According to Battery Park City School art teacher Julie Smith, the reflection of the trees in the Hudson River represent the “idea of staying green.”
“When I met with our middle school art club to come up with an idea for a mural, the students were very invested in the fact that we are not only a brand new building, but the very first green school building in New York City.”
Miguel Calvo, a volunteer and interior designer, helped the kids trace the buildings against their classroom windows, practicing transferring the design onto a tile using specialized paper. They then prepared their tiles with a background glaze, transferred the actual design onto the tile and, finally, painted over it with black glaze. “The whole process was a very mathematical procedure,” he said. “They learned about highly conceptual things like negative space and positive space, and we all had a blast doing it.”
On Monday, some of the youngest artists showed up to greet guests at a small ceremony celebrating the mural’s completion. One anonymous young lady, who asked that her name be withheld because she “didn’t want to be famous,” commented that, while she got to paint her own tile, she was disappointed with how little else there was to do.
“After we painted them, which took, like, really quick, all we did was watch [the teachers] while they put the tiles together,” said the in exasperated first grader, adding that it took “forever” for the tiles to dry in the kiln.
Her classmate, six-year-old Jagar Bahan, was more enthusiastic about his experience, and revealed his new ambition to become an art teacher, “So I can make more murals!” he exclaimed.
“I would like to do that, too, but I would also like to be an astronaut,” chimed in his friend Samuel Basch as he hopped on one foot.“Look, that’s our school,” he said as he pointed to the building as depicted in the mural.
Smith, flagged by her students, said that the mural soon became her life. “I ate, slept and breathed the project,” she said. “No one working on it had ever made such a large-scale mural with ceramic tiles, so there were many rounds of trial and error.”
After several months of planning, creating and staging, the final piece came out exactly as they had planned it.
“To see the final product was overwhelming,” said Smith. “The best part is knowing that the students and staff who began this school will be remembered here permanently, and that even though they don’t all know each other, they all created a piece of the ‘big picture.’”