Article by Aura Whittaker, for the Willits News
Mosaic artist Elizabeth Raybee and her apprentice Karen Mattson teach students about glazing ceramic tiles for the second grade class mosaic mural project.
Second grade students at Brookside Elementary School are leaving their mark on the campus with the help of internationally-recognized local mosaic artist Elizabeth Raybee. With funding from a GASP (Get Art in the Schools Program) grant through the Arts Council of Mendocino County, the second grade classes at Brookside are learning all that creating a mosaic entails, from sketching ideas and designing the piece to making and placing ceramic tiles.
“A mosaic is cool because it’s sort of a metaphor for the larger project of being able to put all the pieces together and everybody contributes and you have this beautiful piece but it has a little bit of everybody in it,” said second grade teacher Lisa Bowles, who took one of Raybee’s mosaic classes last summer and was inspired to share mosaic art with students.
Bowles said the design of the mural came from animals students had drawn as illustrations for a research project. The five second grade classes voted on the best drawing in each class and then Raybee enlarged the images and placed them in the mosaic layout along with the names of the animals. The animals featured are a red-tailed hawk, a mountain lion, a raccoon, a deer and a salamander.
“I knew that I wanted to tie it into the curriculum and every year we do a research project in the second grade as part of the standards,” said Bowles. “And so this year’s project was a local animal from Mendocino County… the kids write reports and illustrate their animals. And then each class voted on which one they liked the best and then that got incorporated into the mural.”
Raybee said she gets five sessions with each child in groups of up to 10 children at a time. She said not only are the children applying pieces of purchased tile, which Raybee donated to the project from her personal stash, they also created their own tiles in the shape of leaves, birds and other things found in nature. In the third session, Raybee introduced the students to glazing and explained that many of the glazes change color after being fired in a kiln. After all the pieces are placed, Raybee will grout the mosaic and hang it in the main hallway across from the school cafeteria.
“It’s a community project. The kids are working together as a team,” said Raybee, whose creations are featured in private homes and public places in and around Mendocino County, throughout the United States and even in other countries. Her work has also appeared in Bay Area newspapers, on the cover of Artweek Magazine, on television and in contemporary mosaic books.
“I’m really excited because my hope is that we can put up a lot more student artwork around the school because I think is important to build that culture,” Bowles said. “I thought, you know we have all these kids here and it’s really nice to see kid-generated artwork and sort of create a nice community. I even told the kids ‘You know, you will be able to bring your kids back here to see the artwork you created’.”
One student, named Erica, said the mosaic is “going to be fun. You get to make shapes out of clay. It’s fun to paint and it’s fun to cut out the shapes and when it’s done, it fun to put them back together.”
Another second-grader named Brody said she thinks making a mosaic is “awesome” because she loves to paint and play with clay.
“It’s so great that the arts council has this program because with all the arts being cut because of funding, we need it,” said Bowles. “My hope is that this will evolve into an annual project with the second grade.”