Teens transform the blank wall of the Olde School recreation building into a work of art

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - A group of Columbia County students work on different elements of a 25-by-50-foot mural the designed on Friday, Aug. 10. The finished mural depicts a female face emerging from a flower with long blue hair filled with sea creatures.The covered recreation facility behind the Olde School building in St. Helens now showcases a brightly colored mural, hand-painted by a group of Columbia County teens.

A group of roughly 20 students recently completed the 25-by-50-foot mural, which depicts a woman's face with flowing turquoise hair interlaced with sea creatures, a collaborative design created by the students.

Lisa Brooke, an Arts and Cultural Commission member, came up with the idea in November to create a large mural somewhere in St. Helens and to involve local teens in the process. The first step was to find a wall or large blank space to paint the mural.

Al and Vonna Peterson, co-owners of the Olde School, told Brooke she could use the side of their building, with no design restrictions. Brooke then connected with the Oregon State University Extension Office and 4-H to find painting participants and to explore ways to secure project funding.

Starting in March, the group of teens met regularly for field trips, design workshops and to prep the site for their mural. The teens took a walking tour in Portland of various murals and met with muralists Joram Roukes and Gage Hamilton, as well as the founder of the Portland Street Alliance, Tiffany Conklin. The teens also visited local artists, including those at the Michael Curry Design studio in Scappoose and Gracewood Designs, run by artist Ken Forcier in St. Helens, before embarking on their own work.

Many students said the walking tours and artists visits were their favorite parts of the project.

When developing the mural concept, the teens were asked to come up with a series of words to express different ideas and emotions. They then took a vote on their top picks — galaxy, rising up, hope and nature — and developed small-scale representative images of those words. The teens voted on different elements from each image to include in the final mural.

The lessons learned and major takeaways for each student vary. Some are homeschooled and said they enjoyed meeting new people, while others enjoyed the process of learning new artistic techniques — such as Klair Nelson, who said she enjoyed learning about blending colors.

Some teens said they simply wanted something to do over the summer, while others said they learned about the importance of collaboration.

Graycen Norvins noted the importance of teamwork.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - In the foregroun Klair Nelson uses her hand to fill in shaded areas of a bright pink flower on the mural, while Kenda Ericson, background, uses a brush to touch up the hair of the woman in the mural."Making sure that everyone's ideas are incorporated, as well as making sure that you don't hurt other people's ideas by going over them with more paint and ruining them," Norvins said.

Many of the students said they enjoyed being part of something bigger than themselves and giving back to the community.

"It seemed like something that would look good on a resume. And especially in a place like St. Helens," Vishal Christian said. "It does seem kind of like — I don't want to say historical — but it does seem like something that's kind of a big deal for the entire city."

Brooke said she was proud of the students for learning to work together and complete a project that many people will enjoy.

"You could see friendships blossom and become a team for the greater good of the project," Brooke said. "It was all about the best wall and the best mural we could do."

During the week of Aug. 6-12, the students took on the challenge of transferring their work from the small-scale drawing to the full-blown design.

Brooke added that the project wouldn't have been possible without community support. The project received grant funding from the ACC, the Columbia County Cultural Coalition and several private donations. CC Rider and TriMet provided free transportation during the field trip to Portland, and Columbia River Fire and Rescue taught the teens about ladder safety. Don's Rental in St. Helens provided a discounted rate for the bucket truck rental.

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