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PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT  | Longs Peak Middle School Murals

Long’s Peak Middle School
Longmont, Colorado

The “Hall of Heroes” Mural project was the “brain child” of Longs Peak Middle School English/History teacher, Gary Barnet. The Hall of Heroes was an extension of a Veterans Memorial painting project. Gary teamed up with Art teacher, Bruce Bennett and in 1997 they hired artist Susan Dailey to design and manage first the Veteran’s Memorial project, then the “Hall of Heroes”. Their collaboration lasted for nearly 12 years. Twenty two 3’ x 7’ panels line the walls wrapping around the outside of the school library located in the center of the school. These panels also line the three major hallways in the school, and became the canvas for the “Hall of Heroes” murals and a focal point in the school.

The panel topics represent a cross section of historical subjects and areas of study, that feature heroic individuals from diverse backgrounds who overcame many obstacles in their own personal circumstances to make a difference in American society and culture. The figures chosen were selected by the LPMS instructors, often reflecting topics covered within the Middle school curriculum. The focus of the project was meant, not only to teach students about the lives of the various individuals depicted, but to expose students to the involved process of creating a professionally executed public art piece. Guest artists (Including Art teacher Bruce Bennett) and student interns from local colleges also participated; mentoring one on one with middle school students. Individual LPMS instructors also got involved in coaching students throughout the various phases of research etc. Students were directly involved in every phase of the project from research and design to the actual painting. Image files for each panel were created and maintained so they could be referenced for all phases of the design and painting process.

The Hall of Heroes mural project was a major undertaking, much larger than available funds could accommodate. Not to be deterred, all of the team members applied for and wrote multiple grants through the years. Ongoing donations were also made by the local chapter of the American Legion, teachers’ organizations, the school administration, students and their families, local businesses, the school district, individuals in the community, (including donations made by the artist herself). Over the course of the 12 years that Susan was actively involved with the project, she worked with 5 different LPMS principals. When Gary Barnett retired, it became quite challenging for Susan and Bruce to keep the quality and consistency of the original design vision alive. Susan continued to apply for grants for several more years, hoping to find funds to finish this special mural project. When Art teacher Bruce Bennett retired in 2006, all 22 panels were designed, although in varying degrees of finished painted states. Pictured on this page are six of the panels that were completed.

The original design plan for all of the panels was to utilize a “collage/ bulletin board” approach to the subject matter within each panel. This involved coordinating the way images were put together on each panel, which was often dictated by the images found during the research process (in the library or online). Even though the subject matter and amount of information depicted varied within each of the panel topics, by using this consistent approach in the way the images were depicted in all of the panels, an overall visual consistency would be created. This approach would also accommodate the wide variety of painting styles and skill levels of the participants, without compromising an overall visual unity. The more experienced artists were in charge of painting the finishing details. Another effect utilized to create an overall visual unity was having consistent lettering styles and sizes in all of the panels.

The school has since had some of the more unfinished panels painted over by students and Local Longmont volunteer artists who were unaware of the original overall design vision for the panels as a whole. Consequently, several of the panels were redesigned with completely new themes and utilize painting techniques and approaches that are inconsistent with the visually cohesive concepts that were originally intended for all of the panels. Despite these visual departures, the mural panels still address important social topics, including tributes to veterans. They also convey the creative and collaborative spirit of a community working together in a process that spanned over a decade.

Although the final goal of finishing the project in a cohesive, consistent and professional way was never realized in its entirety, the Hall of Heroes Mural project is still a great success on many levels. The willingness of two teachers and an artist to undertake a project of this enormity, on a shoestring budget, modeled belief in the project and perhaps a crazy perseverance. It was a great, albeit challenging, exercise in collaborative teamwork over the course of 12 years. The mural subject matter continues to inspire students, school personal and visitors alike, that have walked and now walk the halls of the Longs Peak Middle school.

The last part of Gary’s vision for the “Hall of Heroes” (once all of the panels were finished), was to publish a teaching manual about the lives of the individuals depicted in the murals. He envisioned students, teachers and local writers collaborating to design and publish a textbook that could be used as a teaching tool for LPMS instructors, as well as a fundraising tool to support future school projects. Although this piece of his vision was never realized, the subject matter of the murals continues to be a valuable teaching tool for LPMS instructors.

The Veteran's Memorial mural project was completed in 1997, the first mural in the Hall of Heroes theme. This mural is painted with acrylic paint on a custom built, 8’ x 16’ canvas covered panel. The project was conceived by LPMS teacher and Viet Nam Veteran, Gary Barnett. It was funded by a grant, along with contributions from community benefactors including the local Longmont chapter of the American Legion. It is a unique tribute to Veterans dating from WW I through the Viet Nam War. The idea was to create a tribute that did not depict violent scenes, but did honor the contributions and sacrifices of Veterans. Selected LPMS students and several teachers, including art teacher Bruce Bennett, worked on this mural with Susan.

LPMS has continued to have a Veterans Day assembly and celebration every third year, since the original dedication of the mural in November of 1995.  The event starts with a continental breakfast for Veterans and families and interested Veterans are invited to speak to middle school classes.

 Since 1997, the school has been remodeled twice.  Each time the mural was carefully relocated and Susan was commissioned to refurbish it.  The Veterans Memorial Mural Painting continues to be a unique and treasured feature in the hallway of Longs Peak Middle School. After the first mural dedication reception was over, Susan saw a man looking at the mural with tears in his eyes. He was a Viet Nam Vet. He told her that when he returned from the war; there was no tribute or thank you for the sacrifice he had given. He said the feeling he got from looking at this memorial was making up for it, to the point of making him emotional. That kind of emotional response from a viewer is perhaps one of the highest complements a mural painter can get.

Susan K. Dailey Susan K. Dailey

Middle school students working on "Hall of Heroes" mural.

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©201 8 Susan K. Dailey