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Middle school cafeteria receiving makeover

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By Rama K. Ramaswamy

One of Jill Callahan's favorite quotes is by Pablo Picasso: "art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” It is perhaps also the inspiration underlying her roping in fellow art instructors Jessica Lau and Hillary Sturman to orchestrate a special lesson in two-color design.

Callahan is the 6th and 7th grade visual arts specialist and 8th grade darkroom photo instructor. Recently, she partnered with Wellesley Parents Supporting Art Students (WPSAS) to, in the words of WPSAS Co-President Nina Pascale, "create a legacy in self expression and community spirit.”

Middle school students are to carve unique designs into individual clay tiles, which when fired and assembled will transform into a larger mosaic of contrasting shapes and what Callahan calls "fluid imagery.” The mosaic will be installed on the walls of the renovated middle school cafeteria.

Before that, though, it was up to Wellesley’s teachers to make their own contributions to the mosaic - an event in and of itself.

Principal Mark Ito not only attended, but opened the event by asking attendees to take a few moments to reflect and relax via a meditation concept called "Shark Fin Breathing.” Ito held up one hand perpendicular to his face, fingers stretched. He closed his eyes and began tracing his open fingers with his other hand. Despite a few giggles from his audience, "all participants happily settled into performing this series of simple and playful gestures to encourage a tranquil mindset,” said Pascale.

While Ceramics and Art Instructor Jessica Lau led a PowerPoint presentation to demonstrate how to transfer the design into the clay by tracing first, then carving out the negative space with tools, other art faculty were discussing and comparing their homework - personal designs they had worked on and brought it with them for the event.

Lau's instructions included: "in front of you on the table is a 6x6 terracotta tile covered in white glaze. You will carve your design into the glaze revealing the red clay. This is called scrafitto.” Furthermore, Lau highlighted the following goals: "make your image true to you, interesting and understandable, but mysterious.”

“We wished to encourage everyone to translate a part of themselves into a two-color design using only shape, line and pattern,” added Callahan. “We asked to consider negative space and the image’s relationship to the edges.”

Sturman suggested taking a known image, "such as a flower, and zooming into a specific section, to show simply the curve of a petal.” She also added a bit of a creative directive: “Your design should be something that has never been or invented before.”

Other WPSAS members who were in attendance were appreciative of the "many hands making light work.” In this case, support came from Thomas Carter, WPS director of visual art, as well as Alexander Golob, WHS alum and local Wellesley-Boston artist who is currently working on a new outdoor mural for the Linden Square area. In addition, an 8th grade class of students transformed the cafeteria into an "art-making space,” with WPSAS members who assisted with preparation and clean-up aspects of the event.

According to Callahan, "the faculty tile-making event was a portion of a hand-made tile mosaic project that will include 950 people, including 135 faculty members, with the rest made by middle schools students. Each person will receive a 6x6 terracotta hand-made tile covered in white underglaze, or a white clay tile covered in terracotta underglaze, and carve a unique design abstractly representing an important part of themselves. The visual art staff worked hard on the design phase with each artist to ensure the tiles will work together as a whole. Each design should touch the edges and emphasize positive and negative shapes over lines, so the patterns will tessellate interactively. We have been working closely with Principal Ito and buildings and grounds to ensure this is a safe, as well as fun, installation."

Callahan spoke about further plans in the spring to work on the adhering and grouting portion of the project. The tiles will be grouted onto pre-made metal-framed foam panels. “These panels are being made and installed by Model Masonry, a company owned by middle school parent Adam Kersnowsky,” said Callahan. “This project is the culmination of the cafeteria renovation. We are currently applying for a Wellesley Education Foundation grant to support the panel construction and installation. Our plan is to install the art work over the summer.”

“Our goal is to humanize and de-institutionalize the space by surrounding three of the cafeteria walls in beautiful tiles made by our community,” added Callahan when asked how the mosaic was conceived. “The tiles will represent a range of human emotion in a visually fascinating patterned installation. We hope there will be many conversations about what the tiles represent and that this project will help build connections between people, as well as make our cafeteria a more artful place.”

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