Friday, July 8, 2011

A really BIG announcement about a really BIG public art commission!

Over the past few months I've been talking behind the scenes with a local private school about the possibility of creating an outdoor mural for their playground space. Jessie Martin, member of the SJRS Enrichment Committee, contacted me back in the beginning of April to inquire if I might be interested in coordinating a collaborative mural to fill the exterior walls of St. Joseph's Regional School in Newton, just up the street from my studio. To say the walls of the school are drab is an understatement. This mural project is part of a playground redevelopment initiative that will occur in phases, mural being Phase 1. Eventually they anticipate ripping up the macadam and replacing it with a brightly colored synthetic rubbery material, with hopscotch game grids, as well as potted plants.

View of the right side of the SJRS courtyard, playground area

View of the short wall on the left side of the larger wall of the SJRS courtyard
Of course, my answer first and foremost was yes. I'm generally one to see an opportunity and snag it; when it comes to my art and career that is. Plus, I've had a secret interest in painting a mural ever since I interned at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1999 and learned about the city's amazing Mural Arts Program. In 2004, I had the honor of designing and painting sets for a New York City modern dance company, ACFD, no longer in operation, which was a great stepping stone to working on a mural. So while I haven't worked at a scale of 40' x 15' (the rough dimensions of the walls at SJRS), I do feel equipped with my background of large scale painting, as well as my experience working with children. The only aspect I'm not been prepared for is climbing up on scaffolding, which I imagine, due to insurance, will be restricted to me, little Jennie. It's a little nerve wracking knowing that I have to ascend to reach heights of 15', when you're only 5' that's pretty high. But, I'm looking forward to experiencing a project which takes me higher and bigger than I'm used to working; I'm reminded of a recent PBS movie on Georgia O'Keeffe which depicted her painting a mural on scaffolding in NYC. I was amazed at that feat and know this commission will stretch me in more ways than just my muscles!

It's taken several months of planning, emailing, putting together a contract, meeting with selected students who spent two sessions brainstorming ideas and sketching with me, and as of today, it is final! I will be working with student and parent volunteers over the course of the summer, in the mornings, when weather permits, to paint a mural that will incorporate, as per Father Brian Sullivan's request, Noah's Ark, The Ascension and The Resurrection, and tie in the students' experiences at school, including, but not limited to, technology, the school mascot, its mission, and more.

Schemata for the SJRS mural, ©2011 Jennie Traill Schaeffer

My intent over the next few days is to design a final sketch of the overall mural that includes some of the students' actual sketches, as well as my own ideas. This will be presented to the school and upon approval, I can begin projecting and outlining the image on the exterior walls. The structure of the mural has been set using the visual armature of stained glass windows to break up the huge walls. This was suggested by Jessie as a way to simplify the space and incorporate references to their stained glass windows in the school. And then when I went to see the courtyard, I noticed the view of neighboring, St. Joseph's Church's bell tower peaking over the short wall. After researching a little bit about Italian architecture from the Middle Ages, I believe, though am not certain, that the design of the church stems from the Lombard Romanesque style and I wanted to tie that into the feel of the school's mural. The design will encompass the schemata of windows, and may in the future, break out of the windows in some areas.

A portion of one of the stained glass windows in the school's art room.

We're working on the possibility of recording the progress of the mural creation, maybe in video. So hopefully along the way, you'll be able to check in and see its development.

I'm looking forward to embarking on this creative endeavor and would like to extend a special thank you to Jessie Martin for thinking of me, reaching out, and pursuing this project with much passion. I'm honored to help St. Joseph's Regional School with such a large-scale and transformative project.

If you're in the Newton area and wish to contribute in any way to this project, we are looking for donations or discounted paint, brushes, lidded plastic containers for paint storage, rags, tarps, and scaffolding. You can contact me at TraillWorks via email or phone,

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