The colorful murals on the side of the Hollins Street Market glittered in the afternoon sun as small knots of middle school students and their teachers walked up and down the street looking astonished at the art they had created.
Seven murals made by Baltimore City and Baltimore County public school students had been inserted into the large arches, an art project that celebrates the neighborhood's rich history and the creativity of children unfamiliar with Union Square or Hollins Market. They were dedicated at a ceremony Monday afternoon during which teachers, students and administrators came to look at the finished project.
When students from Rosemont Elementary/Middle School looked up at the vegetables they had created for one arch they said, "Wow."
"It is really cool to see the other ones. And it is great to see the final product," said Riley Delker, 14, who worked on the tile project last year when he was at Catonsville Middle School.
Riley and his group had created a mural of H.L. Mencken, a Baltimore Sun writer and author during the early 20th century, in front of his typewriter. His teacher, Eric Volkmann, said he taught his students a little about Mencken's writing before they began the project.
Neil Posner, 13, worked on a mural that is a scene of Baltimore rowhouses drawn by his teacher at Pikesville Middle School. Posner and the students drew pictures of small rowhouses on a border that goes around the larger scene. Neil rubbed his finger across the tile he had drawn of brick rowhouses. "I just like having it here because it will be here for awhile," he said.
The other murals included scenes of an old train chugging along beside the roundhouse of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum; an a-rab selling vegetables on Baltimore Street; a portrait of John Smith Hollins, the mayor of Baltimore from 1852 to 1854; and a scene from Union Square.
Anyone who grew up nearby would likely know what these images mean, but the schoolchildren who created them had not previously encountered the writing of Mencken or the history of the B&O. So the murals were works of art that not only kept them busily etching figures into clay and painting the glaze, but taught them local history along the way.
Sixteen years ago, Shirley Brown, executive director of the now-closed Museum of Ceramic Art, helped found the Middle School Ceramic Art Program. Now in 55 Baltimore City and Baltimore County schools, the after-school clay program allows students to work in an art form that teachers say is often expensive for a school to offer without outside support. The ceramic art program not only provides a small stipend to teachers who teach after school, it also helps train them in the medium and provides schools with basic supplies, such as clay and wheels.
Through the years, students participating in the program have had their work displayed at several locations, including the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. Brown said teachers have told her that the success some students feel in creating objects with their hands often translates back to the classroom.
"Once they have made something with their hands, it encourages them to continue good results in all of their classes," Brown said.
The mural project took about two years to complete. Students had to carve the drawings into the clay so the finished product would be three-dimensional. Then each tile was fired and glazed and fired again.