Making of a mural

Josie Stein, Features Editor

As students and faculty walk past the theater towards the cafeteria, they can’t help but notice a major project taking form. The art department has been painting a mural that spans the length of the wall between the cafeteria and music room.

The idea to paint a mural on an Upper School wall was originally proposed in the spring of 2018 by alumni Ilana Kaplan (‘19), who brought a preliminary sketch design to art teacher Benjamin Tellie. He communicated with the administration in order to get the mural approved.

“Ilana Kaplan designed this really beautiful image, and she started with one that said, ‘It is a tree of life to those who are fast to it,’” Tellie said. “The conversation I had with the administration was to add more dimensions to it.”

Upper School Principal and Associate Head of School Dr. Marc Lindner suggested painting the mural on the wall between the cafeteria and theater because it sees a lot of foot traffic. Lindner approved the final design which features artistic representations of things CESJDS values, such as STEM, the arts and Judaism.

“I’m so excited about it,” Lindner said. “I think it’s going to add a lot to the community, and the fact that it’s student-led is exactly what we want.”

Beginning at the rightmost entrance to the cafeteria, the mural follows the direction of the ramp. From left to right, the mural features a paintbrush stroke of a rainbow, bringing awareness to the LGBTQ+ community. Above the rainbow, students painted a tree, colored pencils, athletic equipment and the JDS mascot. The design flows into a depiction of a globe, circled by a DNA double helix. Moving to the right, the Kotel and a Torah connect to the Israeli and American flags. A curved music staff feeds into a cherry blossom tree that bookends the mural.

During the first week of April, students began sketching the design outline on the wall. Art students with an interest in painting work on the mural during their class periods with Tellie. Freshman Sophia Lindner helps paint the mural during her seventh-period art and design class. She described the process of bringing the design to life as hard work but also calming and therapeutic.

Sophia has worked on the mural since its early stages: sketching the design off of wall projections, applying the primer and meticulously painting the foreground, which will
ultimately require about nine gallons of paint.

“It’s really cool to work on something that we will see when we walk into school for the next few years,” Sophia said.

According to Tellie, art students are trying to incorporate every aspect of the JDS community into the mural, from mathematics to ceramics. Due to the collaborative nature of the mural, Tellie is open to hearing additional suggestions from students.

“There is such a diverse spectrum of perspectives [in art classes and at JDS] … we get to show our diversity and pluralism through this [mural],” Tellie said.

Tellie has never worked on a project on this grand of a scale but said the experience has helped him grow as a teacher and as an artist. He credits the mural’s progress to the collaborative environment at JDS.

“It really challenges the students and me as a teacher to work through every step together,” Tellie said.

In recent years, the presence of public art at JDS has been growing. Mostly concentrated in the hallway surrounding the art classrooms, students have painted smaller murals, portraits and designs. While the mural-in-progress is scheduled to be completed by the end of final exams, there are hopes to continue this trend in the future.

“This is definitely something we can continue to explore,” Lindner said. “We’ll see where this takes us.”

This story was featured in the Volume 36, Issue 6 print edition of The Lion’s Tale, published on May 23, 2019.