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The Michelangelo of Medfield

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By Stephen Press
Hometown Weekly Staff

Bren Bataclan put down his paint and brush for a moment, looking over the beginnings of his work. He flipped through a few rough drawings, checking them against his notes before turning back to his art. Then, before he could return his brush to his canvas, a line of children appeared outside of their classroom.

“That’s mine, that’s mine!” one child exclaimed as he walked by Bataclan’s work, gesticulating wildly.

“I like that butterfly,” meekly said a little girl as she craned her neck, transfixed by the in-progress art.

Another young Medfielder could only thank the artist as she walked by.

Their reactions were striking. But then, so was the art itself.

Bataclan’s canvas? A second-floor wall of Medfield’s Wheelock School. His collaborators? The school’s students and staff.

Bataclan was adorning the walls with a mural - his second at Wheelock - and passers-by of all ages couldn’t help but rubberneck.

“The principals were invited to submit grants to the MCPE [Medfield Coalition For Public Education] for the Fall Ball,” explained Wheelock Principal Donna Olson. “The MCPE completed the funding for the grant, and our grant was entitled ‘Bring Bren Back.’ Bren Bataclan is a muralist who has a studio in Cambridge, and he had been here two years ago and completed our Thanksgiving-themed Colonial life mural.

“He had done such an amazing job with the boys and girls - he was so engaging - we realized that we wanted to have him back to do something upstairs,” Olson continued. “This time, the teachers chose a theme that focused on landforms - mountains, volcanoes, hills - and the life-cycle; they chose butterflies and caterpillars.

“It’s been exciting. Now the boys and girls are very enthused about seeing the work emerge as it unfolds. It’s the same as last time - he taught the boys and girls how to do some drawing, and he incorporated their work.”

Because Bataclan gives a workshop on his drawings beforehand, it leads to a level of aesthetic similarity that creates a sort of blend between everyone’s artwork. This leads to a greater sense of ownership among the students, since the figures could all plausibly be their own. For the kids, part of the fun of viewing one of his murals is in identifying what piece of it is theirs.

"I showed them how to draw my characters last Monday. If you take a look," Bataclan said, displaying a few of the students' drawings, "they're sort of similar to my style. My creatures are easy to mimic, so they feel empowered to create their own. It's a hybrid of their ideas and mine.

"All my school-related murals are based on the students' work, so a lot of them can say 'That's mine!' So the kids' work becomes part of the school's history."

He took a step back to evaluate his in-progress work before picking up his brush again. This time, a small group of children gathered behind him, fascinated by his process.

“I love Wheelock,” he said as the children reluctantly moved on to their classrooms, sneaking glances back at the mural as they went. “The kids are so talented. The staff is so welcoming. It’s my second time around. I love working with the principal … I love the freedom. She gave me the guideline to have the kids create butterflies and land formations, and I just layer it out. It’s a great collaboration.”

He looked over his work again, interrupted by more passing students and faculty members who couldn’t help but thank and compliment him.

"I can't believe I'm doing this full time,” he said before returning to the mural. “I love my job."

Bren Bataclan is a Boston-based artist. Some of his work can be viewed at www.bataclan.com.

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