'I am an artist'

Nikiski mural project ties together community, boosts creativity

After collaborating on the Nikiski Middle-High School large mural project, the 17-year-old student knows one thing for certain:


“I am an artist,” Acacia Fisher said. “I feel more confidence in my art that I have had in my entire life.”

The high school junior was one of more than 60 middle and high school students who worked together to create the mural, composed of seven 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood. Art teacher Anna Widman and Seward-based mural artist Justine Pechuzal presented the mural to the school Friday morning.

Widman, the mind behind the mural, said she had been brainstorming to create a community mural since she began working at the school four years ago.

Her idea was to tie the school and area community into one piece of art — and Charlie’s Pizza owner Steve Chamberlain said that is exactly what the mural does.

“It’s got local businesses, small businesses and oil businesses included in it,” Chamberlain said. “They did a good job. They got a little bit of everything.”

After receiving a grant to bring Pechuzal down to help, Widman selected the student artists and set to work.

She briefed her students on design elements and principles and spent two weeks with Pechuzal painting the backdrop for the mural.

During that time also, students sketched still life drawings that Widman and Pechuzal later browsed through for images to include in the mural.

“The background is all that we put together,” Widman said, “and then we projected their sketches onto the board.”

Fisher, who painted a tie-dye shirt on a figure in the right corner of the mural, said not only had the mural boosted her creative confidence, but she now plans to study art in college. She had been planning studies in massage therapy.

Other students said they felt they had contributed a sense of legacy to the school.

“I liked being a part of something that will be here a long time,” 15-year-old Alexa Schmidt said.

For Schmidt and Fisher, the mural was the largest art project they had ever worked on. The same is true for 15-year-old Arianne Parrish.

“I feel great,” Parrish said. “I’ve never done anything big like this before.”

Parrish, who painted the girl in the left corner of the mural, said collaborating on the mural made her realize how much she enjoys painting.

That enthusiasm is what makes working on mural projects with children and teenagers so enjoyable, Pechuzal said.

“Every one of these experiences I love at the end because ever time it affirms what I first experience: the power of the arts,” Pechuzal said.

It gives the students ownership in their community, Widman said.

Pechuzal said younger students are often more excitable than the older students and teenagers who are normally afraid to make mistakes, but she did not see that trend working with the Nikiski students.

Widman said the entire school community was engaged.

Students who preferred writing to painting interviewed mural artists and wrote the speech Widman read when presenting the mural to the school.

The school’s video class produced a power point presentation they played after Widman read the speech.

And culinary artists cooked vegetarian meals for Pechuzal during her two weeks in the community.

“Having a community project gives everyone something to work towards,” Pechuzal said.

Widman, Pechuzal and the students completed the last details Friday. The school will hang it in its commons area in early April.


Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.