Time to paint Sophomore Haley Tanzi and junior Aleah Layton paint pieces of the mural. Tanzi and Layton worked on the mural front start to finish as part of the Art in Public Spaces class. (Courtesy of Kathryn Curry)
Time to paint Sophomore Haley Tanzi and junior Aleah Layton paint pieces of the mural. Tanzi and Layton worked on the mural front start to finish as part of the Art in Public Spaces class.

Courtesy of Kathryn Curry

Art in Public Spaces class creates mural for Juniata Gap Elementary

March 28, 2023

During the first semester, the Art in Public Spaces class created a mural to be hung up in Juniata Gap Elementary’s cafeteria.

Principal of Juniata Gap Elementary, Tricia Rosas, wanted the mural’s theme to revolve around Pennsylvania. This is because the third graders in Juniata Gap are learning about Pennsylvania and its history.

“So with their sketches, each student in the class came up with a sketch knowing what the big idea was,” art teacher Kathryn Curry said. “They came up with individual sketches and then from that we got individual ideas and put it into one big one idea. They really have ownership over the whole design.”

Curry worked with Artist in Residence, Debra Bunnell and two classes, to create a mural for the Juniata Gap Elementary School. The mural was commissioned by Rosas.

“Ms. Rosas was the first person to reach out for a project at the beginning of the school year,” Curry said. “The purpose of the mural was the final project for my Art in Public Spaces class. They create a community project at the end of each semester.”

Rosas believes a school should be inviting for its students, so she attempts to add color in different ways throughout the school every year.

“I thought it was a really cool idea to have students create it, and I knew they had an Artist in Residence coming,” Rosas said. “I reached out to see if they would want to participate, and this worked out really great. They came here on a field trip, and they worked with our third graders. The third graders made zentangles, and so when the mural goes up it will have those on it. I thought it was really great for the third graders to be able to work with the high schoolers.”

In order to start this project, the school applied for an Artist in Residence grant. This grant gave the class $4000 to be able to work on the mural with the Artist in Residence. 

“The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art (SAMA) receives funding from the PA Council on the Arts and other sources to help fund their Arts in Education programs,” Bunnell said. “They typically rely on the school to pay half, and they pay the other half. In Altoona’s case, the AASD Foundation has covered the school’s cost.”

Curry and the Art in Public Spaces class had to meet with their client, Rosas, to see what she wanted for the project and then the class made sketches from there.

“We found images for references that we found online, and then we project them in the hallway onto those big pieces of canvas and draw the outlines of them so everything is proportional.Then we bring it in and paint it,” Curry said. “The nice thing about having an Artist in Residence is she would be here all day mixing colors of paint so that each kid would know what to have to work with instead of trying to figure out the colors as well. We painted that and pieced it together because it’s on eight different pieces. We would actually go into science commons and look down into the balcony and kind of see how everything fit together.”

Sketching away Students stand on a bench and sketch what they want to draw. (Courtesy of Kathryn Curry)

Bunnel, the Artist in Residence, was the brains behind this project. She led the design and colors for the mural. Both the Art in Public Spaces students and painting students helped with this in addition to the third grade students from Juniata Gap. The third grade students at Juniata Gap also got to participate in the making of the mural.

“Each third grader got to make a zentangle. It’s basically a doodle or pattern on a circle,” Bunnell said. “The Art in Public Spaces class helped them, which was a new experience for most. Then, back at the high school, we adhered the circles to the border and worked their designs into a larger zentangle. This was fun because we tried to disguise each 3rd grade circle into patterns of our own design, so the elementary kids will have to look hard to find the original circles. I wouldn’t have thought of this idea, but one student in the class, at the brainstorming and sketching sketch stage, put a bold black and white pattern on her sketch as a border, and we went with it.”

While working with the Art in Public Spaces class, Bunnell got the chance to help students expand on their art skills with the help of Curry.

“I enjoyed the various personalities of the students, and their ways of contributing to the whole,” Bunnell said. “I wondered why we chose to do a Slinky and a Ferris Wheel, because they were challenging to paint. They turned out fine. I worried about just turning everyone loose making up zentangles for the border, but it turned out very cool. Students were relaxed and focused when they got to draw the zentangle designs straight out of their heads.”

Initially, Bunnell didn’t work as the Artist in Residence for SAMA. Before, she worked on murals on her own.

“Jessica Campbell, the former Education Director, got me involved with the SAMA and the residency program,” Bunnell said. “I also took a year-long course through the University of the Arts for a Teaching Artist Certificate, which was encouraged by the PA Council on the Arts. Previously, I earned a BA from Millersville University in Art/Liberal Arts and a BFA from the University of the Arts in Illustration.”

Though the Art in Public Spaces class has finished their job with the mural, Bunnell is working on final touch ups of the project.

“After students are done painting, there are always some touch ups, especially when we line up panels that were painted separately but will go side by side when installed,” Bunnell said. “There were surprisingly few touch ups due to the attention to detail during classroom painting time.”

Courtesy of Kathryn Curry

There will be a ceremony to hang up and unveil the mural in Juniata Gap’s cafeteria. The Art in Public Spaces students will be able to attend because they worked on it. The mural will be put up April 10 and the next day Bunnell will make final touch ups while the mural is on the wall.

“We are going to have an unveiling and a dedication ceremony and I’m hoping to be able to invite the Art in Public Spaces students, students and parents from Juniata Gap, the administration, and [SAMA],” Rosas said.

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