Painting at a New Level

Students add color with murals

April 24, 2019 Cranberry Living


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Murals, like the one Butler High School senior Kate Sequete is painting of storks on a door, grace rooms at the school.

The art is spreading and the artists aren't sure where it'll stop.

There are wizards on the walls, fish on the doors and stars spreading along the ceiling. A biology teacher wants his classroom to be covered with vignettes of a rain forest. The artists don't mind: the outer boundaries of their canvas haven't been defined, and they hope it stays that way.

“This is where you do art,” said art teacher Ryan Benedetti. “So, it should be filled with art.”

The much-loved murals at Butler Intermediate High School found spiritual successors at the Senior High School this academic year. Now, as the spring semester nears an end, a pair of art teachers and their students are holding class while surrounded by their own work.

Benedetti's classroom is next door to Erich Campbell's room. Campbell taught art at the intermediate school for years before the Butler School District's consolidation process, and he led students through much of the mural painting at that post. He and Benedetti are friends, and both say they share a similar teaching vision.

“I think the kids feed off it,” Campbell said. “It makes for a good, positive environment.”

That, and all the color. Campbell's classroom has become a blend of classical beauty and humor this year, while Benedetti's is adorned with pop culture art and sculpture.

In the hallways and conjoining spaces, the art is all bleeding together and extends throughout the art wing.

The effect is transformative, according to students in the classes, and the color-filled walls lend to a calming atmosphere. There's music playing, students moving throughout the space as they work on projects, and light shining through windows onto the art.

Jayda Scott, a 17-year-old junior, said the art “brings the room to life.”

“It just makes you want to be here,” Jayda said. “It's like home. It's my favorite class of the day.”

Jayda, like many students in the two teachers' classes, contributed to several of the murals on the walls. Here's how it works: When students finish a class project early or otherwise have downtime while waiting for the paint to dry on their projects, the teachers put them to work on whatever murals are going at the time.

Butler High School senior Gabrielle Kozlowski recreates a mural of the “Lord of the Rings” on the wall of the art room.

The pieces are brainstormed as groups, and the two teachers rough out the initial designs. That way, the style remains consistent, they said. Each individual piece gets worked on by teams of students, and they're sometimes updated later as ideas change and new themes develop.

“They're realizing that art can be community based,” Campbell said.

It's hard work, too. Campbell said they make sure the students realize that taking on these sorts of big, public projects carries with it a certain level of expectations. There's a degree of professionalism to it that isn't always a regular part of classroom work.

Grace Ann Clendenning, an 18-year-old senior, said the environment in the classes makes their work not feel too belabored.

“It's warm and welcoming,” Grace Ann said. “We have fun, but we get work done.”

On a recent morning, seniors Katie Sequete, 18, and Gabriele Kozlowski, 18, touched up murals as classmates worked on sculptures.

“There's nothing worse than sitting in a classroom without any art or anything hanging up in it,” Katie said.

Gabriele, finishing up a piece inspired by “Lord of the Rings,” said the art wing stands out because of such work.

“It's a different environment than any of our other classrooms,” she said. “It's a lot more calm in here than the rest of the school.”

Campbell is the head of the school's art department. He estimated that about 450 students are in art classes in 10th through 12th grades. Various art classes are among the top electives offered in the district.

Both teachers said they've encountered no limitations from administrative staff. Benedetti relishes it, and he's determined to spread their art even further into the building.

“I'll go as crazy as they'll let me,” he said.

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