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Mosaic brings crumbling walls to life

March 22, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- The students at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg have a new reason to be proud of the school they are told is crumbling around them.

Last week, the school opened its doors to the Artist in Residence program of the Pennsylvania Arts Council to learn the art of mosaics while one is added to the school's halls

Through matching grants from the Arts Council and the Tuscarora Education Foundation and in-kind donations, the school was able to welcome artist Justin Ayala to build a large, ceramic mosaic on the wall outside the auditorium.

When finished, the mosaic will be at least 25 feet long and 10 feet tall.

Principal Rod Benedict said the project will not cost the school a dime.

Yet the value it adds to the building is immeasurable, said senior Nikki Koontz.

Koontz, who is president of the art club, said the mosaic brings new light to the building.

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"We are so upset that our school is crumbling and that our renovations did not pass, but this gives our school more meaning," she said. "I can't wait to come back, walk through the halls and see the mosaic that I worked on."

The permanence of the piece has resonated with students, art teacher Anita Shively said.

Koontz said knowing the mosaic will be there long after she graduates is a "cool thought."

The mosaic, titled "Carpe Diem," speaks to the impermanence of youth and features silhouettes of students at different stages of education, from freshmen in high school through college graduates, Ayala said.

The idea belongs to the students in Shively's advanced art class, Ayala said.

"The students sketched their ideas for the mosaic and I tried to combine them into one piece," he said. "I particularly liked the ideas of perspective and silhouette they were working with."

Benedict said the school will insert a flat-screen television into the wall with the mosaic as a digital canvas.

The television would display student art and images of the murals that he said will likely be covered with lockers as renovations continue at the school.

With one more week of work left on the mosaic, Shively said the goal is to have as many students as possible add their pieces to the wall.

While the image was planned, the placement of the ceramic tiles was not and that makes it much more interesting to students, senior Alisha Barthalow said.

"Justin did not preplan every piece, but he lets you perform art yourself," she said. "It will be awesome to come back and know that I was a part of that."

Shively said she hopes to secure grants in the future to add two more mosaics to the long wall in the school's main hall.

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