When artist-in-residence Sarah Ferguson began quizzing Knight Elementary students in February about what they wanted to see in a new series of murals to be installed in the school cafeteria, the answer became clear rather quickly: Canby. They wanted art that celebrated their hometown.
That’s exactly what they got, in a series of larger-than-life wall murals that recently went up at the Canby elementary school. The panels depict lively and easily recognizable scenes from around Canby, in a collage style evocative of children’s author and illustrator Eric Carle, who used brightly colored and hand-painted pieces of construction paper for his distinctive technique.
There’s the Clackamas County Fairgrounds and Canby Rodeo, complete with rides, a midway and animal shows (including a peacock, because why the heck not); downtown Canby, with the American Legion building and colorful dahlia mural, Knight Elementary itself, Wait Park, the Canby Center, the high school and Canby Pond.
The mural is composed of individual pieces made by Knight students. Before the Covid-19 shutdown, Ferguson spent several weeks at the school as an artist-in-residence, teaching students how to mix paints, add creative details and texture, and build individual elements for the mural.
Photos by Tyler Francke:
Ferguson is a Portland-based “teaching artist” with The Right Brain Initiative and Young Audiences, who has spent more than 20 years working with children to express themselves through the visual art medium of painted paper collage.
She has installed countless community-based and school-centered murals similar to the one at Knight, a passion that began with a project she did with her own children and their classmates at Sunnyside Elementary in Portland.
She said she likes to start by going to each classroom to introduce herself to the students, or as she put it, “meet the kids in their own space.”
“We do a little brainstorming on the theme, see what that means to each of them,” she explained. “They brainstorm and share their ideas, and we figure out a theme for each individual classroom.”
The painting process involved giving kids more or less free rein to experiment with colors, paper, brushes and other objects used to create texture, like combs.
“They don’t paint any pictures of things, but they experiment with different ways of moving the paint around,” she said. “Experimenting and exploring with the paint.”
After the hand-painted papers are dry, Ferguson then worked with the students to cut and arrange the papers to make elements for their part of the mural. More than 350 Knight Elementary students lent their individual talents to the finished project, which will be named by students at a later date.
“Normally, without a pandemic shutdown, we’d have a fourth session, with all the students coming, class by class, to see the finished mural, get a chance to find their artwork, see what all the other classes had done,” she said. “You get a chance to see this big community project and how much was accomplished by everybody working together, how all these different ideas come together to tell the story in this mural.”
The project was funded by the Knight Elementary School Parent Teacher Association and will be displayed at the school for years to come.