Kathryn Sclavi ’05 stands on a stepladder at Washington Elementary School in Trenton, contentedly painting the once beige wall shades of brilliant blue and green. Before her unfolds the Trenton skyline; passing students smile wide and wave excitedly as they watch their hallway transform in front of their eyes. A few hours later, Sclavi stands next to fellow TCNJ graduate Lisa Lombardelli ’07, the music teacher at Washington Elementary. Leaning over tiny tables and chairs, peering down at even tinier masterpieces, the two alumnae aid Washington students, from kindergarten to 3rd grade, in adding their own contributions to the mural: small portraits that will later embellish Sclavi’s painted landscape. “Each student will contribute a part to the mural by painting on a cloth, which is made for walls and murals,” explained Sclavi. “I glue this material to the wall using a permanent adhesive.”
The creation of Sclavi and Lombardelli’s mural project, which commenced in early March, spanned 11 school days. Students spent the first week creating preliminary drawings, then began their actual paintings during week two. During that time, Sclavi painted landscapes of the Trenton skyline, the river, the sky, and Rt. 29 on the walls, periodically adding student portraits to her work.
“It is so amazing to see the mural take shape as tiny pieces of our student’s artwork become sealed into the walls of our school,” said Lombardelli during the process. “Kate does a wonderful job incorporating the students’ actual artwork. Her process lets the students be involved without having to climb ladders and paint directly on the wall.”
Borrowed from her experiences with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, Sclavi’s method integrates both togetherness and individuality, making the mural’s title, “Juntos somos especiales: Together we are special,” especially fitting. “The kindergarteners are all creating fish for the river, the 1st and 2nd graders are doing self-portraits, and the 3rd graders are creating self-portraits on bicycles and birds,” explained Sclavi. “When the mural is complete, it will feature an individual work of art from all 350 students comprising a complete mural.”
Funded by the Young Audiences grant from Princeton and Target, the mural project was part of a larger effort by Lombardelli to increase art education in the school. When Lombardelli approached Washington Elementary School Principal Gloria Tunstall MED ’04 in September and told Tunstall of her desire to have a student-made mural, Tunstall directed Lombardelli to Sclavi’s mural work. The teacher was instantly inspired.
“[I] messaged [Sclavi] to see how I could go about creating a project like hers,” Lombardelli explained. “She directed me to Young Audiences, where I applied for their Target Scholarship. We won a total of $7,500 for our art and music program.” That was enough to hire Sclavi, an artist from Young Audiences, and to fund two musical assemblies. “Peter and the Wolf,” performed by the Phoenix Woodwind Quintet, and “Let’s Pretend Latin Dance and Storytelling” are both planned for June.
Integrating music and art into a larger effort to promote both unity and individuality, Sclavi and Lombardelli taught five classes a day together, adding the final student pictures to the mural on Tuesday, March 26. Each day the students planned and painted their parts of the mural, sang songs, and discussed diversity. “Since the theme is, ‘Together we are special,’ each student talks about what makes them special,” explained Sclavi. “We talk about how their individual creative styles, facial features, and imaginations are special and different, and [how] together as a school, everyone is special.” Lombardelli added, “[The students] have learned so much about the different stages of planning and preparation as well as how to go about creating a larger piece of art…Overall, it has been a wonderful experience!”