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All together now: a district-wide mural project.

Over 350 students, ages eight to eighteen, throughout my school district had a unique opportunity to exhibit their talents and skills by collaborating on a large ceramic mural for our new Administrative Center. The three-paneled ceramic mural covers a thirty-foot-long section of wall from floor to ceiling in the reception area, and is a collage of historic landmarks that are important to our Northwest Ohio community.

Capitalizing on an Opportunity

The recent new construction gave the art department the perfect opportunity to create a district-wide collaborative project for permanent display. My professional goal for the department was to develop a project that would highlight the strength of the arts in my district and encourage collaboration between all the art teachers, students of multiple ages, and the community. Ideas for this comprehensive project were presented to my superintendent, who absolutely loved the project and supported it by arranging all funding of materials as well as the installation.

Preparation and Collaboration

Over the summer, I began generating ideas of subject matter for this historic mural from the community, district staff, and local historical societies to create a list of important landmarks, people, and events. I had so many individuals express their excitement and interest as they provided me with a wealth of articles, old photos, and other images to use. Designing the composition for this mural was the next step. The administration requested that the mural be completed and professionally installed prior to the opening of the building in late fall. With this time constraint, all nine district art teachers agreed to meet several times over the summer to design the composition.

Each of the nine teachers was then assigned a section of the mural to work on with their students. With the specific design developed, teachers approached this assignment as if students were all being hired by the district to create a site-specific work of art. They wanted students to have an understanding of how a community can have an influence on the choices artists make when creating art. They also wanted students who participated in this project to develop an understanding of the process and techniques of creating a mosaic mural.

Student Recruitment

Teachers at the junior high and high school levels integrated the building of the mural into their classroom curriculum. At the elementary buildings, teachers recruited volunteers from grades four through six to work several days after school as an enrichment program. Students in these grades were very familiar with the historical images in the mural as they study our local history as part of their social studies curriculum. This background knowledge gave students a deeper understanding and personal involvement with their art. National Honor Society students from the high school volunteered to assist the younger students during this after-school program.

Template Preparation

Prior to working with their students, each art teacher prepared two life-size paper templates of the image of their assigned section of the mural. One template remained intact and was used at the end as a guide to reassemble the mural. The other template was cut apart in individual puzzle-like pieces and the pieces were then laminated (to protect them from the moisture of the clay) to use as stencils with the clay.

Working with the Clay

Students rolled out white low-fire clay to approximately 6/16" (1 cm) thickness. They laid each laminated paper template on the clay and trimmed it to the exact shape and size for each. Then, students sculpted each piece by adding textures and low relief, building images out from the clay. Students were able to add their own special touches as they created small insects and animals hidden in the foliage and waterways throughout the entire mural. Students at all grade levels did an amazing job creating these historical images, but it was all the little extras they added that made the mural so fabulous.

Completed ceramic pieces were dried very slowly on drywall boards to prevent warping. The clay was then fired, glazed, and retired. The natural shrinking of the clay during these processes provided an adequate gap between each piece for grouting during installation. To create needed small mosaic filler pieces, students rolled out slabs of clay, glazed them a variety of solid colors, and broke them into appropriate-size pieces. These smaller pieces were used in the water and sky designs.

Final Assembly

When all pieces were complete, the mural was assembled at the new Administrative Center. After months of building each section in our own classrooms, it was incredibly exciting to see it all come together. The mural was installed permanently on the wall by a local tile contractor/parent from our district. The final mural depicts eight local sites including two old school buildings, a log cabin, colonial inn, historic bridge and battle site, canal boat with general store, and many unique species of plants and animals in our area. In the center stands a life-size image of General Anthony Wayne, the man for whom our district is named. The image of our local Maumee River flows through the entire mural to tie it all together.

The mural has become a centerpiece for the new building. Administrators, district staff, students, teachers, and the community are all very proud of this beautiful art we collaboratively created. Students realize what a unique opportunity they had to create such a wonderful legacy that will remain for years to come.


Biggs, Emma, The Encyclopedia of Mosaic Techniques. Running Press, 1999.

Dawson D.T., The New Mosaics. Lark Books, 2000.


Students create artworks that use organizational principles and functions to solve specific visual arts problems.


Sheri Densel is a National Board Certified teacher at Waterville Primary School, Waterville, Ohio.
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Title Annotation:All Levels Studio Lesson
Author:Densel, Shari
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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