Pierce Elementary school is located in the heart of logging country in Pierce, Idaho.
The Principal wanted to dress up the lunch room with murals featuring the animals of the area. The whole school was involved (K-6) and Local professional artists were also involved in the process.
Pierce Elementary School students and visiting artist Susan K. Dailey bring outdoors in.
Newspaper article by Ronda Nelson
At Pierce Elementary School, nestled amongst tall evergreens and mountains, the outdoors moved inside recently as students transformed the cafeteria, painting panoramic outdoor scenes under the tutelage of artist Susan K. Dailey of Ft. Collins, CO. From Nov. 13-16, grades K-6 projected, traced and painted scenes ranging from wildlife and scenic vistas to habitat studies. The resulting murals are the culmination of a process begun months ago.
In August of this year, PES head teacher Robyn Bonner was searching for an artist who could come and teach the students in something akin to the Artist in Residence programs that are available on a limited basis. While looking for something that wouldn’t require a lengthy grant process Mrs. Bonner found Ms. Dailey’s website:www.SusanKdailey.comand she and Dailey began e-mail correspondence. With funding secured through a donation by the Pierce Gem Community and another from a person who has generously funded earlier projects, planning was set in motion. Upon her arrival, Dailey taught a landscape class for a number of local artists to complete the funding needs.
After discussing a number of options for subject matter, among them Lewis and Clark and our local mining history, they settled on local wildlife as their focus. When school began, the fifth and sixth grade students started research in preparation for the week of painting. They searched out information and pictures of wildlife and scenery.
With the much anticipated arrival of their artist finally here the students were ready to dive in and start painting. One of Dailey’s first tasks was to rein them in, explaining that there is a process to be followed, beginning with a “mural map”, that is, a basic floor plan of the mural site and a list of the animals and scenes that would be incorporated into the work.
It was decided that a black bear would be on the first wall inside the door to serve as unofficial greeter. The opposite wall there would feature an extensive scene with moose, deer and elk, a river, mountains and trees. Those two walls alone would have been a weeklong project, according to Dailey, but from that point the “work took on a life of its own” and soon covered several walls.
The students traced the pictures onto the walls, largely a matter of expediency since the time frame was four days, the work was growing bigger by the hour, and tracing “is a tool that helps get good result quickly with kids,” Dailey says, “and it takes years to be able to draw well. This is more about painting and design and composition and seeing a project through.”
She taught them to look for shapes and light within the pictures, and paint accordingly. They learned about color and texture. Kindergarten students painted sticks on the forest floor, learning to paint them the right direction so they were “lying down.” All the students used various colors to create shadow and variation. As they worked on the animals they learned about painting the directional hairs. They learned to paint objects with lighter colors where the light hits, and the darker shadows beneath.
Parts of the work are habitat studies. The beaver dam in the corner is open for observation. Another wall has a tree in the foreground with a cougar and lynx resting in its branches, eagles soaring overhead with mountains and a river coursing through the canyon in the background.
The most playful part of the project was reserved for the wall with the fire extinguisher mounted in the middle. The extinguisher is now the center of a huge tree with raccoons hanging from the branches, a bunny hiding at the base and other smaller animals, even a skunk, incorporated in the scene.
In the interest of time, what would have been a study of local wildflowers became a wildflower garden. To fully explore the flowers and plants of the area, Dailey said, would have required several more weeks.
About the artist
Dailey graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Fine Arts during the 80’s, when the National Endowment for the Arts was well funded for the Artist in Residence program. In spite of not being a certified teacher, she looked into the program and soon found herself in Lewiston where she taught art for a semester. As funding dwindled, the opportunity to serve in this capacity did as well and her stint at Lewiston was followed by three months in Parma and a month in Georgetown, ID. She also taught in Nebraska at three separate venues and in Colorado.
Realizing how much she enjoyed teaching, she decided to pursue her certification, only to find that the arts were undergoing drastic funding cuts in most schools. She was able to find short term openings, substituting for teachers on medical leave and such, before finally settled on a job as a giftware designer in Boulder, CO.
But she enjoyed doing residencies so much that whenever one would open up she would take it. “I love coming in and doing a project,” she said. “Everyone is so excited; it’s a little bit different role than the art teacher.” In her experience the art teacher had been the “expendable position, the first one to be cut”, so coming in as the Artist in Residence “felt so good, everyone was happy and excited.”
She has been painting murals since she was in school, and says it is the core of what she does. She recognizes that her love of teaching is best expressed in the opportunity to do what she has done in Pierce, offering short term projects with intensive instruction and a delightful and lasting end result.
And having taught at the college level, she observed “these sixth graders, once they get the routine down, they’re just as effective as the college students, so that’s really neat to see.”
Dailey said the students are always frustrated with the preliminary portions of the project. They don’t want to paint the grass, they want to start with the animals. But they soon learned that they needed to participate in the full process, and she sees to it that each student has a chance to paint landscape and animals and learn how to do a wash and other techniques.
Head teacher thrilled
Bonner was thrilled with the student centered focus of the project. She said a number of students skipped recess to be able to paint. Some stayed late after school, others gave up part of their day on Friday—when no classes are held, to come to the school and paint some more. She said it was a “great project” and was delighted to see the students take such pride in their work. Their initial groaning at having to do research has turned into great satisfaction with the finished product.
An integral part of the success of the project was the participation of local artists. A number of them came to the school to help paint the murals and some will be continuing to work on finishing touches in the weeks to come. Since the project was really big enough to span more than one week, their help has proven to be invaluable.
The bulk of Susan’s work has been done on the large scale of murals, so she had never had a gallery showing before coming to Pierce. Before her departure Nov. 18, she was honored at a reception at Studio 205, and a number of her prints and cards were on display. They will be available at the Studio through Thanksgiving week.
Dailey was delighted with the level of talent both at the school and in the community. In spite of coming in the capacity of teacher, she says she learned a lot from the local artists she worked with during her stay. She believes that the surroundings here provide an added measure of inspiration, and hopes to return soon.
In the meantime, once bare walls now teem with color, and the scenes depicted provide a lasting reminder of all that has been learned, of talents newly tapped and of their new teacher and friend, Susan K. Dailey.