It has taken a bit of time, but Ponoka Elementary School (PES) will soon showcase its new ‘identity’ to the public.
The school, through a matching grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, began brainstorming on the artist-in-residence project in April 2017. Staff intended to redefine how the school is represented in Ponoka through a mosaic mural that will appear on the front facade.
PES brought in Edmonton artist Debra Bryan last week to help with the project — a smashed tile mosaic mural that represents the school’s community and aspects that have had an influence on developing both Ponoka and the school. The mosaic features a colt for each grade, a grain elevator, Siding 14, four teepees, wheat fields, the Battle River and a rising sun.
PES staff members — educational assistant Laeta Morskate and Grade 5 teacher Paula Wilkins — helped create the mural’s concept with ideas from the rest of the staff, which was then turned over to Bryan to combine into a cohesive and unique piece of art.
“There are seven colts featured, which come from the seven (student) ‘communities’ within the school and that also works with the seven habits students are taught to use,” Wilkins stated, noting the project is one they want the entire community to be proud of.
“We wanted the mural to have some strong elements of connecting community together, and since we’ve never had a concept of an identity for PES, we also wanted to work on that especially now that we have been in the new building for a while.”
Morskate added the mural was also looked at in terms of developing a new logo for the school and bringing students together.
“(Ponoka Secondary Campus) has the Broncs, and since we’ve worked on a new school logo, having the colts works well as does having seven because there are seven teachings in First Nations culture. So, the mural includes all aspects of Ponoka and our neighbours,” she said.
“For the students, some are very patient and really working on it. The older students think its great being able to work with the tools to cut the tiles, while the smaller students like putting it together like a puzzle.”
Morskate also noted the mural will bring the atmosphere that’s been developed and shown inside to the public on the outside.
This is Bryan’s second time doing an artist-in-residence at PES and finds this particular project fun.
“All of the grades are participating and involved in putting the smashed tiles together like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s been fun so far and I hope the students love the mural when it’s done,” she said.
“What’s unique with this is mosaics usually require big, bold drawings without much detail since most can look pixelated. So, we had to use extra special tiles that allowed us to put in all the details.”
Bryan started that process last summer through what’s called vitrification — the process of maturing clay and glazes to fuse the particles to ensure the clay body is impervious to water. That meant glazing tile blanks then firing them and trying a variety of glazes to ensure she could get the proper colours for the mural.
“You can’t buy brightly coloured tiles for outside use. Also, to help with the detail, we are using special narrow tile strips and outlining in mirror to help make the horses more sparkly, make the colours pop more and outline other images so they can be seen,” Bryan added.
The students first learned about creating different kinds of mosaics and practicing filling one in at four stations prior to being let loose on assisting on the actual mural, that is being put together on four different mesh sheets that will be placed on a backer board.
“It’s an opportunity for students to learn about the various mosaics. For the older ones, they get to cut and place the tiles, while the younger ones look at how they can fill in spaces with various shapes,” Bryan said.
“And, the mural tells the story of the people who worked on it, so it’s all about diversity and community and it will show that to everyone.”
The matching grant paid for 75 per cent of the project, with the PES parent council and money from the school’s juice box recycling providing the rest of the funds.