Kayla Musgrove, a fifth-grader at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, uses a brush to add highlights to an angler in a mural created by the intermediate students at the school. While brushes were used to add a few details to the mural, most of the work was done by students using different parts of their hands to make the shapes and textures that give form to the various aspects of the piece, from the brown bear to the salmon. The mural depicts the Kenai Peninsula and was inspired by the schools science curriculum.
Photo by Will Morrow
To say students at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School in Soldotna used their hands to create a mural gracing the hallway of the intermediate wing would be an understatement.
Indeed, students used every part of their hands, from fingertips to the base of their palms, to create a mural depicting the Kenai Peninsula and incorporating various aspects of their science curriculum.
“I would have never thought you could do this with just your hands,” said fifth-grader Lane Faulkner.
The size and scope of the mural also took some students by surprise; the bottom of the mural is at waist level and it rises all the way to the ceiling, and it stretches nearly the entire distance between two classroom doors.
The scene depicted is representative of the Kenai Peninsula, with mountains and an active volcano across the inlet to salmon making their way upstream, with a brown bear sow and her cubs, and a handful of anglers, plucking the fish from the water.
A forest fire shows the cycle of reforestation on the peninsula, and a large Alaska logo in the middle of the mural is bordered by lupine and fireweed.
Kalifornsky Beach principal Sylvia Reynolds said the project started with a desire to put some color on a blank wall.
“I love art, and there was nothing on this wall,” Reynolds said. “We knew we wanted to do an art project, and the intermediate wing, it was their turn.
“We met with the intermediate teachers, brainstormed, and took a walk. It’s so sterile through here, why not make it part of what we’re doing?”
Reynolds enlisted Terry McBee, a longtime art teacher at Soldotna Middle School who is now retired, to facilitate the project.
“The credit for this belongs entirely with the students. I am an expediter; they are the creators,” McBee said.
To get things going, students submitted drawings of their favorite parts of the school’s science curriculum, which includes some ecology, biology and geology. McBee then took all those ideas and synthesized them into one piece.
Students had an opportunity to practice painting with their hands using Tempra paint on paper during which they were encouraged to explore how to make different shapes, patterns and textures using different surfaces of their hands.
“Sometimes we used the side of our hands, or a bunch of different things to get different textures and volume,” said sixth-grader Rylee DeVito.
“It’s very physical and tactile. It expands their perceptions of what they can do with their hands,” McBee said.
McBee thanked painters from borough maintenance department for prepping and priming the wall, and students then began laying on color, starting with the background and working to the foreground. All the work was done, literally, by hand, until the last two days, when brushes were used to anglers (McBee pointed out that the female fisherman is catching the biggest fish). Parent volunteers were on hand every day to help with the project.
Students worked on the mural in groups of four for 10 to 15 minutes, with groups rotating throughout the day, so every intermediate student at Kalifornsky Beach has his or her hands all over the mural. While working on the wall, students paid close attention to details, adding shadow and highlight and even reflections on the water.
“It’s really cool. All the classes get to work on it, and it just transforms into a picture,” DeVito said.
That sense of teamwork was not lost on other students.
“I learned that all the community has to work together, or it wouldn’t be a community,” said Faulkner.
McBee said he hoped the confidence students developed as they watched their creation take shape would allow them expand what they think is possible in other areas.
“Education is all about growing, training, learning, maximizing potential. That was the goal in doing this,” McBee said.
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