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Mural 55, Tremont Elementary, Upper Arlington, Ohio

Over a year ago I contacted schools in Central Ohio to introduce my murals and hopefully generate local interest. It didn't. And then, I was discovered by U.S. embassies and I never looked back.

That was then. This is now.

In the past year, I contacted approximately 180 embassies. Several expressed genuine interest. A few talked about specific months. None committed to actual dates. As months ticked by, I decided it was time to give schools another try. If I could contact nearly two hundred embassies, I could certainly do as well in Central Ohio. I contacted more than two hundred fifty elementary, middle and high schools throughout Columbus and the surrounding counties. E-mailings included messages, photos and videos to principals, assistant principals, art teachers, librarians and special needs teachers. I decided it was best to cover all of my bases. In other words, I threw an extremely wide net.

I didn't get as many bites, or even nibbles, as you might expect or I might have hoped for. One principal said that the e-mail address located on the district website was not the one normally used. Whatever the reason, not many people replied. But, thank goodness, it caught the eye of the principal of Tremont Elementary School in Upper Arlington. He had a committee that wanted a face-to-face.

It was obvious as soon as I entered Tremont Elementary, that this was the kind of school anyone would want their child to attend. It was clean. It was cheerful. It was bright. And, the art teacher must have been amazing because terrific student art was visible everywhere. As it turned out, there were three art teachers. And, as I sat down to brainstorm with them and their principal, I kind of wondered, "Why am I here at this building that has three art teachers, one of whom is a Columbus muralist?"

The answer to that was, I do something amazing and what they wanted was something bigger than any regular classroom teacher normally had time to do. The people at Tremont Elementary school wanted one of my largest murals ever, eighteen yards by two yards, and they wanted every student in the school to participate in the project. Every student included about six hundred fifty children.

No other school had ever asked that of me before.

The brainstorming session went well. I suggested a mural similar to one I created in another corner of Columbus at the NNEMAP food pantry. My idea was huge letters in the background spelling TREMONT with designs inside each letter. The committee I met with wanted student input in the design. I had the perfect suggestion. Yes, sometimes that happens. Each letter of the mural could represent a specific grade level in the school. Students could brainstorm the collection of events that they most remembered from that year.

The mural was planned for an exterior wall by the playground. I had plenty of time to plan for it. Since it was outside, I had to wait six months for winter weather to pass. That sounds like an incredibly long wait, but it was an unusually awful winter in Ohio with cold, rain, snow, more snow, bitter cold, a hint of spring and then tornadoes, flooding, more rain and repeatedly more snow over and over. I expected all along for the mural to start on April 1st. I guess I was the fool this time. The freezing, horrid, extremely miserable weather lasted a few weeks longer than that, with an extra freezing mess thrown in for good measure the day we were supposed to start painting.

It gave the teachers plenty of time to prepare the students for my arrival. I have never been to a school more prepared. Other places have put up signs in the past and told their students and parents I was going to paint, but these kids were really, really prepared. One of the art teachers created a PowerPoint presentation about me and shared it eighteen times. I wouldn't mind seeing that myself. Anyway, obviously, every kid with ears to hear, heard about the most non-famous world-famous artist on the planet who was coming to their school.

They knew my name.

The mural was so large that it took three days of preparation. (Usually, it only takes about three hours.) One day was used in painting a primer on the brick wall and then it took two days to sketch the design. That meant, there were a lot of recesses when the muralist was on display, drawing, for all the world to watch, at least the world of Tremont. And, much to my amazement, there were always kids who wanted to sit down along side of the mural and watch it take shape. What kind of kids give up their recess time to do that? I guess the answer is the kind that have an art teacher who gives eighteen PowerPoint presentations.

The kids were uniquely interested in the design. After all, it depicted their suggestions and they were so very familiar with the contents included in each grade level. I might not have understood each event, but the kids surely did.

T Kindergarten: One of the highlights of the year was hatching eggs. The littlest Lions at Tremont had their own playground with a unique kind of swing. They also made rockets and had reading buddies with older students. And, they had a pet teddy bear that mysteriously disappeared on campus. They needed scavenger hunts to locate their friend.

R Grade One: I knew I liked Tremont Elementary when I heard about the Buddy Bench. If you happen to sit on it during recess, it means it's a day when you need some special T.L.C. and those who sit on this bench find it given by other caring kids on campus. Birds were studied and bird houses constructed in grade one. They enjoyed a roller skating party and participated in the Turkey Train, where food supplies were gathered school-wide for those in need. I assume that 100 Days of School is a big event in most first grade classes. And this year, Upper Arlington celebrated its 100th anniversary. So, I included a huge 100 in the background of this letter. To make it even more special, every student put their thumbprint inside the "one hundred". In the bottom left corner of each grade level, I indicated the target grade. Therefore, for first grade, I put a one. It wasn't intended, but some very clever students noticed that the wheels of the wagon next to that one created an additional "one hundred". I seriously wish I'd thought of that.

E Grade Two: As a part of a community fund-raiser, student art is sold at an auction. This young artist painted a dinosaur. Along with those critters, rockets and butterflies were studied in grade two. The whole school celebrated Cake Bingo. I must have just missed it because one young girl was very excited to tell me about it. Nobody saved me a piece of cake.

M depicted a map of Upper Arlington and their very unique lion mascot. The quote to live by, above the entrance to the elementary school, was "Growing Together".

O Grade Three: Tremont Elementary was located right next to the community swimming pool, which was a big event in Grade Three. They celebrated with an Ice Cream Social and were introduced to Guitar Club. The Empty Bowls program introduced the students to world hunger and water shortages. And, as Huger Warriors, they created sack lunches to help solve the problems locally.

N Grade Four : An introductions to strings came in Grade Four. Other ways to express creativity was through Valentine boxes and Intramurals. The wagon wheel was part of their study of the Old West and Packing for the Street was another program to make meals for the hungry.

T Grade Five: The oldest kids at school had a luau and a mile run. In addition to that, there was a Grade Five Breakfast. At the end of the year, the Clap Off was an event to walk around the school and celebrate, applaud, a very good year at Tremont.

It took a lot of parent volunteers to help pull off a mural this huge. The whole process took about four weeks, with a few snow and rain days in there. But, it was a tremendous success for the entire community. Of course, I'm going to say that, but the best comment came out of the mouth of one of the boys as he painted. He declared, "I'd rather paint a mural than have recess any day." Can a kid possibly give higher praise? I seriously doubt it.

Copyright 2018 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.