It started as a simple e-mail request to expand opportunities for students to serve the Gibbons school community. It ended with many wonderful new service projects, including the restoration of a huge mural of two recently canonized saints.
The mural, which adorns a wall in the academic wing, not far from Queen of All Saints Chapel, dates to 2000-2001 and is made up of 48 separate photo tiles, each done by a different student. In many ways, the artwork is prophetic.
It captures in vivid black and white imagery, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa engaged in an intimate conversation about, one imagines, their work on behalf of the poor and in support of human freedom and dignity, that years later contributed to their being recognized as saints in the Catholic Church. Anna Elizabeth Helton '17, (right) together with a group of current art students, gave new life to the old piece at about the same time Mother Teresa was canonized this fall.
The restoration project was one of many wonderful outcomes the e-mail produced. What better way for students, who are also members of the National Honor Society (NHS), to serve, than to help the school community they love, said NHS moderator and math educator Jennifer Cipriano '04, who sent the e-mail. She also drew one of the mural's squares when she was a Gibbons sophomore.
For their service projects students have, among other activities, helped set up for All-School Masses, and assisted the Environmental Club with a campus cleanup. And when Visual Arts Educator and Fine Arts Department Chair Rebecca Dason asked for help with the hallway mural, Helton rose to the challenge.
"This is a perfect way for students to give back to their school and use their artistic talent," said Dason.
The mural, which measures 8' x 8', was a collaborative project for Art 1 students to learn about drawing and shading using an ebony pencil. Then art instructor Brad Watkins chose a photo, which he did not reveal, cut it into 1" x 1" squares, and gave each student one or more squares. The students were asked to draw the image that appeared on their photo piece(s) on a 12" x 16" sheet of paper and worked collaboratively to put the pieces together, shaping the entire mural and revealing, for the first time, the full image.
The individual photo tiles are held together and fixed onto a thin wooden board by spray glue and covered with poly acrylic. Time and several moves, however, took a toll on the mural, which was peeling in some places and missing pieces in others.
To restore the mural, Helton spent 12 hours, during her lunch period and after school, re-gluing pieces that were peeling, and tracing pieces that were missing, among other tasks. She also asked six Art ll honors students* to redraw the images on the missing pieces, using as their guide, an electronic version of the original photo, which was taken in 1997 by the official Vatican photographer, Arturo Mari.
The students then matched the new pieces with the existing ones that the alums originally drew. To protect the mural moving forward, Gibbons asked Ed McKinnie, facilities maintenance supervisor, to cover it with Plexiglas, preserving the artwork for future generations.
Helton, who has long been interested in art and hopes to minor in it in college, said she volunteered for the project because she viewed it as an opportunity to make an impact and to acknowledge two amazing Catholics.
Principal Jason D. Curtis said the restoration project not only underscores the three tenets of our school's mission – faith, service, and leadership – but it also secures a piece of our school's history, venerates the saints, and honors the work of alums and current students. Curtis added, "I'm so grateful to the students and educators who collaborated to restore the mural, preserving this beautiful art that means so much to our school for future generations of Gibbons students."
*The Art II honors students who helped with the project are:
Isabella Francesca Dalessio-Skare
Kathleen Elizabeth Duffy
Sofia Montserrat Gomez-Ayala
Payton MacKenzie Kaeding
Katarina Elizabeth Kirke
Amy Valentine Lawson