Pupils ply ancient fresco technique on school wall

June 09, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

No matter how fast the Deep Run Elementary students painted, time was running out.

While the 50 students rushed to complete images of rain forests and deserts, mountains and prairies, their canvas -- an outside wall of their school covered in plaster -- was drying up and becoming unworkable.

But last week the third- to fifth-graders finished their work and completed the first student-created outdoor fresco in the state, according to the school's artist-in-residence Michael Hearn.

The mural was unveiled Monday for the first time. The 4-foot-by-24-foot mural is divided into five panels showing different climates: desert, rain forest, tundra, prairie and mountains, tidal and marshlands.

Last year, Mr. Hearn, a professional fresco painter who teaches at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, helped Hammond Middle School students paint a fresco mural at their school, but that was indoors.

"This is only the second (fresco mural) done by students in the state of Maryland," he said, referring to the Deep Run work.

Mr. Hearn said he wants to demystify classic fresco techniques for the general public.

"Instead of something unattainable, I wanted to do something that's practical," Mr. Hearn said.

Dating to 1500 B.C., a fresco is a painting created by brushing pigment mixed with water directly onto fresh, wet lime plaster. The resulting painting is more permanent than others.

About 550 students in grades one through five created drawings for the mural using slides and library books. Of those students, 50 third-, fourth-and fifth-graders were ultimately selected to paint the fresco.

Art teacher John Royo said students learned the essence of labor and cooperation.

"They found creating something like this is a job that requires a lot of love, attention and care," Mr. Royo said. "They really had to concentrate and focus on the art."

The fresco took hours to complete. Using the drawings submitted by their schoolmates, the students made five, full-scale sketches or "cartoons."

They later transferred the cartoons onto tracing paper, punching small holes along the outlines. Mr. Hearn then placed the tracing paper against the plaster and rubbed a dark pigment over the outlines. The powder goes through the holes and is absorbed by the plaster, leaving the outline on the plaster.

Students painted within the outlines, making modifications as they went along.

Many said they were surprised at the amount of work involved in painting a fresco.

"There was a lot of detail," said Judy Chang, a third-grader who helped paint the rain forest panel. "You had to use the tip of the brush and it kept getting flat."

Students had only four to five hours to paint each panel before the plaster dried. They said the hardest part was not making mistakes.

"In a regular painting, you can start all over if you make a mistake," Chris said. "You can't start all over with a fresco."

The fresco was made possible through a $2,700 grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. The Howard County Public School System, the Deep Run Elementary PTA, and the Howard County Arts Council contributed about $970 in art supplies.

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