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Drawing On History.

People who visit Springfield High School's large auditorium are surrounded by history--both local and global. For the past two years students in my high school art classes have been painting two 60 x 12' (18 x 4 m) murals depicting major historical events on unrolled scrolls. Each mural was accomplished through the help of Terry Sylvester, a professional scenery painter in Brattleboro, Vermont. Through grants from the Vermont Council on the Arts and the Springfield Performing Arts Project, Terry was able to spend two weeks each year helping over 100 art students paint a spectacular mural.

Topics for the Murals

The first mural shows the history of humankind, from the pyramids of 3000 B.C. to cloning sheep in the year 2000 A.D. Over sixty students spent about a month in the library researching information. They divided "Time" into ten historical periods, and each student signed up for a group. Each group created lists of historical events, then they began researching pictures pertaining to those events.

Working on a Smaller Scale

Students enlarged, reduced, or cut pictures and then arranged them in a pleasing composition on a scaled "mock-up" version of the final mural. We made many revisions as history teachers helped us out.

The final "mock-up" version was gridded out, cut into squares, photocopied, and then reassembled. The next step used math to measure and grid out the wall to look like a scroll. Every "box" on the scaled drawing model had a corresponding square on the wall. The students used soft vine charcoal to draw in the pictures. They traced over these lines with markers and then flogged (erased) out the charcoal lines.

Painting the Full-sized Mural

The painting was done using semi-gloss latex paint with a value scale of parchment and ochres to rich sepia tones, to simulate the look of an old globe. Complicated staging was set up so students could reach the top. Over 150 students contributed their artistic skills to the final creation.

The next spring, the process was basically the same except for the research. The new mural depicts Springfield, Vermont's local history from the Indian settlements on the Black River up to Ben and Jerry's new factory. One senior, Chad Maheu, handled most of the research as an independent study project. Members of the local Springfield Art and Historical Society helped with his research.

Springfield's Rich History

Choosing what to show was not an easy task. Some of the more obvious choices were pictures of Charles Lindbergh visiting Springfield and visual images of the machine tool industry that dominated the local economy for many years. This mural started out in a black and white value scale that gradually changed to color as time passed. The mural ends with images of modern times pictured by the hands of Springfield's future--its young people.

In addition to teaching its creators to use history, art, and math in one project, the murals have added visual histories for people to view as the auditorium is a focal point for the community. The unraveled scrolls will reveal local and global images for audiences to appreciate for many generations. The hundreds of teenage artists will remember this project as it highlights history and art in our small town and the whole world.


Students synthesize the creative and analytical principles and techniques of the visual arts and selected other disciplines, the humanities, or sciences.

Lisa Murray is an art teacher at Springfield High School in Springfield, Vermont.
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Title Annotation:school art and history project
Author:Murray, Lisa
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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