There has long been a tradition at Boyce Elementary for the graduating fifth grade to honor the school with a gift as the students move on to middle school. In the past the gifts have been things like playground benches, door mats, a new piece of athletic equipment. However, this year’s fifth grade decided to give something a little different.
But how do you wrap a memory?
Answer: Stretch a canvas over a wooden frame and then ask Laura Stevens to capture your dream in paint.
“The mural shows life at Boyce that is unique to that school,” Stevens said standing beneath the five-and-half-by-six-foot painting. Steven’s painting is mounted so that it is the first thing students, teachers, and visitors see when they walk into century-old facility. “Not every elementary school is over a hundred years old, or has a track or takes physical education in the form of running laps so seriously. Or, has a bell that students ring at kindergarten graduation. Most schools celebrate Read-Across-America but, Boyce does it in a BIG way.”
Stevens should know. She was an art teacher at the school for five years – the longest to serve in the position she proudly adds.
However, Stevens never refers to her time as Boyce Elementary’s art teacher, or to the more than 385 hours that she spent creating the painting – as work.
For Stevens, art is life – not work.
“I love teaching kids art because it offers me a chance to see art and the world with fresh eyes on a daily basis,” Stevens said. “Picasso said we are all born artists, the trick is to remain one as we grow up. I understand that perfectly because children have innate talent in many things. It is judgment and criticism from others that makes us begin to doubt our abilities. I was lucky enough to have an artist as a mother who was a constant encouragement to me.”
Not only is Stevens’ mother, Jacque Bray, an artist, but her work also adorns Boyce Elementary. A wall mural in the teacher’s break room depicting a flowery meadow is Bray’s work.
Boyce Elementary Principal Susan Catlett said that she that the level of detail that Steven’s put into the painting is nothing short of extraordinary.
“The lower right section shows our tradition of Kindergarteners ringing the school bell when they graduate,” Catlett said pointing to the painting. “The painting also depicts the importance of reading at Boyce Elementary. The calendar in the has ‘March 2’ circled because not only is that Dr. Seuss’s birthday, it’s also ‘Read Across America’ Day.”
Catlett pointed out other details in the painting like the “Feeling Good Mileage Club” where children are shown walking and jogging around the school track as well as the school sign highlighting “1908,” the year the school was founded.
“We’re really proud of this painting,” Catlett said thoughtfully.
Catlett said that each year Boyce’s Student Council Association is sponsored by four staff members – this year’s sponsors were Adeela Al-Khalili, Crystal Meade, Daneesia Davis and Judy Sallgren. Catlett said that the SCA sponsors worked with the students to decide on the idea of a painting for the class gift then Sallgren worked with Stevens to develop the images for each scene.
For Stevens, who not only taught at Boyce Elementary but whose children attended the school as well, working with Sallgren made the project that much more special.
“Judy was my mentor when I taught here,” Stevens reflected. “I have the utmost respect for her. “
Stevens said that she and Sallgren brainstormed about how best to represent Boyce Elementary before finally settling on the scenes depicted in the painting.
“The traditional view of the front of the school is probably my favorite scene just because of how much I love the school,” Stevens said.
Stevens said that she has primarily taught herself how to paint although readily acknowledges her mother’s influence in the process.
“My mom was always painting and I always had access to paint and brushes when I was little,” Stevens said. “I guess that it wasn’t a surprise when I began to paint as well.
However, the Boyce Elementary School painting is not Stevens’ only creation adorning the halls of the school. A cheery group of dinosaurs painted on the wall of the school’s reading nook stand guard over any child lucky enough to have a few minutes to sit with a book surrounded by Stevens’s pre-historic picture.
“I guess the biggest gift to me was how honored I was that the SCA requested for me to do the mural for the school,” Stevens said.” Yes, both my children attended Boyce so I have the utmost respect for the teachers there. But teaching there with these amazing people for five years was by far the best work experience I’ve ever encountered. I spent most of my working life at ad agencies and lithograph companies as a graphic artist and being a female in a largely male environment was often daunting and deadlines quite stressful, especially after having my kids.”
“This is just a wonderful school and school community.”