Putting their stamp on artwork

Post office mural project highlights pupils' creativity

May 03, 1999|By Young Chang | Young Chang,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Michael Dorsey tried to paint within the lines as his buddy leaned on the Ashburton Middle School art class table, muttering about how rarely the twosome pick up paint brushes in their artistic efforts.

Their specialty is drawing comic book characters in black ink -- not all this color stuff.

The unfamiliarity with paint doesn't keep Dorsey, 13, from trying to be creative as he dabbed black acrylic paint onto a traced picture of a mail truck.

Dorsey said he had chosen the mail truck picture to reproduce because he thought it would be a little tougher to draw than the football and menorah stamps that others had chosen. "I like challenges," he said.

Challenging youngsters is what the Art Mural Stamp Project is about for painter and art historian Paul Roberts, coordinator of a recent Ashburton Middle School class in Baltimore. He has faith that Dorsey will meet his challenge, in more ways than one.

"Because there's more that goes into this than just doing it," said Roberts. "This teaches [the pupils] how to concentrate and focus, and it spills into other areas."

The Ashburton Middle pupils painted 48-inch by 13-inch pictures of U.S. Postal Service stamps. Among the images were Superman, a football and the menorah. The paintings will be hung in Northwest Baltimore's Arlington post office in mid-May, said Linda Byrd, manager of customer services at the post office. Ashburton Middle School pupils come from the neighborhood.

The Art Mural Stamp Project, begun three years ago by Roberts and funded by NationsBank, Safeway, McDonald's and other corporations, allows children to paint stamps on plywood boards for display in post offices in Maryland. After tracing the picture from enlarged copies of stamps, children paint the pictures.

Sometimes they become innovative.

Ashley Pugh, 12, copied a drawing done by elementary schoolchildren, who were commissioned by the post office to design stamps. The stamp has three stick people and the words "The United States of America," in black. Pugh opted for color, however, painting the letters in green, red and blue.

David Hall, 12, changed the background for the picture of the football stamp from brown to white. Three weeks ago, he drew the football and coated it with water-based tempera paint. A week later, he used acrylics, also water-based but much more permanent.

The double-coat allows for "more body, more solidness of color," said Roberts.

Roberts said kids with an education in the arts tend to do better academically "because they're learning how to discipline themselves whether it's their bodies or their minds, and they don't even realize it."

Roberts graduated from New York University's film school in 1952 with a minor in fine arts, and later worked as a photographer and newspaper reporter. He retired in 1993 as an account executive from the advertising branch of Media General, a Richmond-based publishing and broadcasting company, and began his stamp project while writing a book on Maryland's contemporary murals.

He was driving through Washington about four years ago, he said, when he noticed a mural of the Capitol on a wall 90 feet high.

"I said to myself, I must be seeing things, because the Capitol is supposed to be on my right, not my left," he said. "And then I realized [the mural] was on a 90-foot tower. I got inspired, I was smitten."

A year later, Roberts noticed the unattractive exterior of a Colesville post office and thought, post offices could use a few murals.

The Art Mural Stamp Project gained such popularity with postmasters that schools in Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have participated.

"I've got schools and entities, I've got all sorts of things," said Roberts, "One is a prison for adolescents, another one is for severely handicapped children. They're all doing it."

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