Mural, Mural on the Wall

Students bring public art to life at Bailey Gatzert

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
September 13, 2011

The neighborhood around Seattle University was a blank canvas when Danila Rumold went in search of just the right site for a community mural.

“This might be a good spot,” she remarked more than once as she toured the area last December.

Rumold, who taught in SU’s Fine Arts program, pondered several locations before she met Greg Imel, principal at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School. Imel told her he’d welcome a new mural and an opportunity for community collaboration.

“It takes an invitation for a collaboration to begin,” Rumold says. “I thought art would be another nice element to bring to Bailey Gatzert and continue to build that relationship.”

The mural is the latest symbol of the partnership between SU and Bailey Gatzert, a collaboration inspired by the Seattle University Youth Initiative. With a home for the mural in her sightline, Rumold geared up to teach her spring class called Community Art and Mural Painting Techniques. It’s a new spin on service-learning projects at SU, one of dozens the university offers students for greater community engagement.

“I’m impressed with the work of those who collaborated on the mural and the collective impact it will have on the students at Bailey Gatzert.”Thirteen SU students participated in Rumold’s 11-week course. Sophomore Andy Vanderbilt did some of the early legwork for the project. He scouted the neighborhood just south of campus, photographing buildings and sights to capture the colors and mood of the area that could be conveyed in the mural.

Four themes emerged: community, curiosity, creativity and ambition. The mural makers chose to present the themes in numerous languages to reflect the multilingual neighborhood.

As the students learned about the history of mural making, they visited murals around the city and discovered public art involves a collaborative, community-driven process. They participated in a meeting of the Central District Public Art Project for a glimpse at how that group planned art for the Central District.

Vincentian Brother Mark Elder, a visiting muralist from Chicago’s DePaul University, spoke to the students about the role of the artist as peacemaker in community art. He talked about creating public art with socio-political, community and religious themes and the dialogue it can produce.

Bailey Gatzert students, their parents and teachers became the driving force for the mural class.

“What do you like about school?” and “What do you want to be when you grow up?” were among the questions they asked Kathleen West’s K–5 art classes. “One wanted to be a minister. Another an artist and another a nurse. It was great to see them draw their hopes and dreams for the future and include them in the mural,” says West.

Artist renderings depicting tetherball, four square and kickball, which resonated with the students are found on the mural, along with jumping rope, hula hooping, flowers and sunshine. The mural features cameos of respected leaders Wing Luke, the Vietnamese Trung sisters, Roberto Maestas and Chief Sealth, along with Principal Imel and several popular Bailey Gatzert teachers.

It was no small feat to build the 8-by-28-foot mural. The class constructed seven canvas panels made of marine plywood to keep the project manageable. Once transported to Bailey Gatzert, youngsters could watch the mural artists at work and have a chance to use handcarved rubber stamps to add flowers to a blooming cherry tree, a symbol of growth and hopefulness. In the summer Bailey Gatzert hosted a celebration in the school garden where the community mural, titled “Lifting Up Our Children,” now lives.

“I’m very pleased with the result,” Imel says. “I’m impressed with the work of those who collaborated on the mural and the collective impact it will have on the students at Bailey Gatzert.” 

Adds Imel, “What I like most is that the kids love it. They see images they can relate to in it.”

A look of the panels of the Bailey Gatzert mural in progress before its installation in June.