Dalton High School students create murals for Fine Arts hallway

·5 min read

Jul. 31—To mark the completion of the first year of Dalton High School's Fine Arts Academy, art students created a pair of murals for the Fine Arts hallway.

Ideally, filling blank wall spaces with student work will become an annual tradition, said Wes Phinney, theater teacher and head of the school's drama department.

"It'll be like 'the circle of life' in this hallway."

That's "a wonderful idea," said Belisa Borrego, one of the muralists and a member of the class of 2022. "These murals can inspire others (in the Fine Arts Academy), and I will be so happy to come back to see all the art" on these walls.

Students in the Fine Arts Academy can be inspired by the murals just by walking by them, even if they don't realize it, said Trevor Ledford, a longtime art instructor at Dalton High and one of the catalysts for this mural project. "They may not even pick up on the fact they're being inspired subconsciously."

Class of 2023 member Valerie Moreno hopes the mural she worked on inspires other students to "get involved in anything creative," she said. Hopefully the mural is an example that "they can put their minds to something and be creative."

"I want people to see (my mural) and feel like they have escaped from the world, from being overwhelmed, and if it inspires others to do art, that's the best gift I can think of," Borrego said. Viewers ought to feel like "you're not standing here, but inside the painting."

Moreno hopes the student murals become an annual tradition, she said.

"It's really good to bring in new artists with new perspectives," and she'd be happy to work on another mural next school year after she collaborated with class of 2024 members Kelly Madrigal and Uriel Fernandez on one of these murals.

The goal with their mural is to "showcase the arts, all of them," from painting and drawing to acting, music and singing, said Moreno. The scene is in a large artist palette and includes everything from the comedy and tragedy "masks" of theater — as well as a curtain — to a set of musical notes.

Moreno is especially fond of the curtain, she said.

"I did it — I worked very hard on it — and it's very realistic looking."

Madrigal carefully chose colors for the comedy and tragedy "faces" to "match the mood," she said. She also loves the disembodied arm with a pointing finger, a nod to one of the world's greatest works of art, Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

"Art is very freeing," she added. "I can (experiment) with different aesthetics" and make it "personal."

Fernandez focused mainly on the night sky and moon and — like his collaborators — is pleased by the final product, he said.

"It's really good."

"It was a long process, and we probably spent too much time sketching it," Moreno said. "Next time, we'll go for it" faster.

The murals were put up in the hallway before the school year ended.

"I was so excited to see that," Moreno said. "It worked out, and I'm very proud of myself and the others."

For artists accustomed to working individually, collaborating on this mural was an adjustment.

"We were all together in a tight space, but I liked it," Madrigal said. "This was my first (project) with others, but I like seeing their different takes, and I can appreciate why they did things" the way they did.

The second mural is a solo effort by Borrego, who received an invitation to this year's All-State Art Symposium at Columbus State University and was this year's recipient of the Creative Arts Guild's Bernice Spigel Prize for Excellence in the Visual Arts.

Her mural is titled "Art," because "I was trying to represent art," she said. That's evident in everything from art supplies like paintbrushes (as trees), playful paint tubes and a river of colorful paint.

The mural was "a huge opportunity" for Borrego, both literally and figuratively, she said. Not only was the "huge canvas" the largest she'd ever worked on, but students will view it for years and years.

"I don't usually do a lot of realism in my art — we have enough of that in real life" — and "Art" is no exception, she said. "I want to take you out of your stress (with my artwork)."

Ledford is impressed by every element of her mural, but he's particularly delighted by the cheeky humor, such as famed "tree painter" Bob Ross being painted by a tree, complete with the tree's "signature" on the artwork.

"You could look at (this mural) forever and see more and more," he said. "It's cool."

Art teacher Ree Lambert "and I thought (Ledford) would love that, (as) he really loves Bob Ross," Borrego said with a laugh. Ross is "his favorite artist."

There's also plenty of ambiguity in the mural, and "I never tell people what they should think about my art," Borrego said. "I just let them form their own opinion."

Sketching her mural took longer than usual for Borrego, as she had to be more detailed, precise and thoughtful than ever before, she said. "The process took a lot of deep thought."

"I'm so proud of" all four students, Ledford said. Doing murals "this large is a completely different ordeal."

Seeing the mural she spent so much time and energy on hanging in the hallway for all to see at the end of this school year was a buoyant conclusion to what was "a rough year" for Moreno.

"My dog I had for 12 years (died) in January, and I had some family stuff, but seeing this finished makes me feel so good and proud," she said. "Nothing makes me feel happy like (art), and it brings me so much happiness."