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When children at William Wells Brown Elementary want to know more about local history, they can look to their hallways, where brightly colored murals illustrate significant people, places and events.
Visiting artist Alfredo Escobar of Berea guided students in creating scenes about the school’s 19th-century abolitionist namesake, early African-American jockey Isaac Murphy and the racing history of Lexington’s East End.
Escobar also taught mini lessons to every class using the theme “Our Community Heritage,” which emphasized how each youngster fits in. For instance, he reminded the kindergarteners how “friends come in all colors.” Kids in grades 1-3 focused on “I am part of a family,” “I am part of the neighborhood” and “I live in Lexington,” respectively, and he reinforced core-content science with fourth-graders and social studies with fifth-graders.
“It’s kept very simple, but everything’s connected,” he said, noting how the children drew pictures of their families, pets, homes, churches and other things that have special meaning in their lives.
About 18 fourth and fifth-graders with particular talent or interest in art worked together to paint the eight wall-size murals throughout the building.
One depicts Brown’s link to the Underground Railroad, including quilt squares used as signposts and his dramatic play “The Escape, or A Leap for Freedom.” One mural about Murphy includes the familiar spires of Churchill Downs, his number of career wins, examples of jockey silks and a silhouette of the Lexington skyline. A life-size image of each man appears in the foyer outside the music room and the computer lab.
In applying the students’ suggestions, Escobar took the opportunity to review basic art concepts such as balance, symmetry, contrast and focal point. “It’s a lot of practical ideas and design ideas as well,” he said.
Escobar also led a two-hour professional development session for teachers, in which they each colored pictures noting milestones in their lives. One included the flag of Italy, where she wants to visit someday; another featured a bricked pathway with a fork leading to an unknown future.
“You create conversation, unity, almost like a community,” Escobar said of the process, in which he strung pictures together in a long, connected row.
Fifth-grade teacher Mendy Meehan and music teacher Susan Jordon secured a grant from the Kentucky Arts Council for Escobar’s two-week residency.
“It probably exceeds my expectations. I’m pleased with how the kids are working. It brings out their talent, and it’s way beyond what I thought they could do,” Jordon said toward the end of the project.
“It’s building more positive culture and climate,” she said. “It’s building a lot of self-esteem in these kids. They’re really proud of what they’re doing.”