The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

SHS students create mural


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

The mural, depicting native plants and berries, mountains and ocean, created by Seward High School art students, was mounted April 1 above the entrance to the school, to be enjoyed by all who enter.

Those who enter Seward High School will henceforth pass beneath a beautiful mural featuring some of favorite native plants, fireweed, oyster mushrooms, blueberries, Devil's Club and Pushki, and two human hands holding samples of food and natural medicines; berries and fiddlehead ferns. Fittingly, the mural is framed with an array of Seward's mountains above and ocean below.

The high school building had remained without exterior art for most of its 35 years, with the recent exception of a bright new coat of green paint last summer, a handsome carved sign near the entrance, and a painting created by the senior class of 2012 set back on the far side of the building, visible mainly to those driving away from the school.

The new mural was mounted by the local school maintenance crew April 1, to the surprise of students and staff who greeted it the next day.

"It's absolutely gorgeous," said SHS Principal Trevan Walker. "It's an old building, and it's very industrial looking, so I think the splash of color there looks gorgeous. I think the earth tones blend perfectly with the browns and greens and the tans that's been on the exterior of our building so it adds tremendously to the overall look and feel of the building."

It was created by art teacher Bethany Waggoner's students over a two-week period prior to the Christmas break. Seward master muralist Justine Pechuzal guided the project, with Waggoner's assistance.

"It's a beautiful composition," said Alex Ashford, a student who helped paint the fireweed and the hand holding the fiddlehead ferns. "I didn't really think it would go together that well, but then with the neutral colors behind it, and with how bright the plants were, the color scheme, I think it really came together and looks really nice." Ashford was in the art room along with the Katsma twins, painting and decorating old sneakers.

"I was really glad to see it up because I thought it was going to be put up after school ended, and like, it looked really amazing when I first saw it," said Allie Katsma. "I just think it really represents the culture and the plants out here," added her sister Gabby.

The mural is part of the ongoing School Yard Habitat Project, in which all three Seward schools plan to participate, as well as community volunteers. It was envisioned by Matt Gray, of Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, and was funded by both the School Yard Habitat Project (through RBCA) and the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area. The grant paid for all supplies, and for Pechuzal's leadership. Jennifer Headke of Seward Mural Society donated paint and drop cloths and Lenny of Seward Auto Body and Paint clear-coated the mural with no labor charge.

Pechuzal guided the children at Seward Elementary School in creating the tree mural on the side of Seward Elementary School building, and has designed or painted a number of other Seward murals. She helped village schools across Alaska create murals, using a democratic collaborative process she invented and perfected.

"Justine is an expert in this process. I would say she's made murals in 20 different schools in Alaska, and what's so special about it to me is that it's a collaborative process, with the students totally owning every step of the process," Waggoner said.

The students collectively determine the focus for their mural, then independently draw and develop the artwork. Pechuzal scans the best artwork with Photoshop to help scale it and then creates a unified mural, often bringing it together with sea, mountains, sky, or borders that the group also produces. Once she has projected the designs onto the wooden panels, and traced them out, the students then return, and everyone paints different parts of it.

The Seward High School mural grant specified that artwork had to include native plants or habitat as well as a human, or cultural element. Since it was to be located at the school entrance, it also had to include "Seward High School" in the design, and show some school spirit as well. Students collaborated on a design that included all three concepts.

Last summer's School Yard Habitat efforts involved removing unsightly invasive bushes and grass, replacing them with native trees, berry plants, and areas for the children to gather outdoors. Volunteers transformed the elementary school's front yard into a vibrant habitat, more inviting to local birds, butterflies and children.

Plans for this summer include creating a nature trail from the elementary school to the middle school, building raised beds for the elementary school, initial work on an amphitheater for the high school, and interpretive signs for the local school trails.


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