Colorful campuses

By Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat May 21, 2013 12:30 pm

Louise McPeeters (left) of the Central Sierra Arts Council introduces artist Dianne Stearns, who created her third mural at Jamestown Elementary School. Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
Students and local artists teamed up this year to decorate Curtis Creek Elementary with a stunning mural and Jamestown Elementary with a shiny new mosaic.

At Curtis Creek, an acrylic mural now covers the wall of a classroom building, the work of Twain Harte-based artist Tracy Knopf and all 488 students at the school. 

Meanwhile, at Jamestown Elementary, local artist Dianne Stearns and students in the after-school program painstakingly assembled pieces of glass and tile into a steam engine and foothill landscape.

The projects were dedicated Thursday evening. Each was funded by $2,100 from the California Arts Council’s Artists in Schools program, which in turn gets cash from the sale of California Arts license plates.

Curtis Creek and Jamestown had to come up with their own matching funds. Both exceeded that requirement by thousands of dollars. 

“If children didn’t want it, it wouldn’t happen,” said Louise McPeeters of the Central Sierra Arts Council, who wrote the grant application for Jamestown and Curtis Creek last year. “Kids love the arts.”

Knopf works in acrylic and created the acclaimed 1,100-square-foot mural in the Tuolumne County Library on Greenley Road. She started on the Curtis Creek mural last August, delivering almost two dozen art lessons to students along the way.

“The faculty thought maybe 100 kids would be interested,” Knopf said. “It turned into everyone wanting to do it, even the teachers.” 

Students chose the animals they wanted in the mural, and Knopf took several students at a time out of class to paint. The finished product shows horses running through a field of wildflowers. 

Curtis Creek had a mural that was painted over several years ago. In 2010, eighth-graders decided they wanted another and started raising money. 

Students, parents and community members all donated to the project, said Curtis Creek Principal Terri Bell.

The new mural enjoys the protection of the Visual Artists Rights Act and can’t be destroyed without Knopf’s permission, which she said she will never grant. 

Jamestown Elementary’s mosaic is only the latest of three collaborative campus projects headed by Stearns, but she called it the “most sophisticated.” 

It faces Fourth Avenue from a classroom building and shows Jamestown’s famous Sierra No. 3 steam engine in foreshortened perspective — which means it has the appearance of emerging from the wall.

Older students shaped tile into the colorful wildflowers flanking the train. The younger ones helped Stearns attach to the flowers to the wall one by one. 

The tile, mirror and glass create what Stearns called a “visually kinetic” effect that shines differently from every angle and at every time of day.

Below a swirled plume of steam are tiles showing the names of community members and businesses that donated more than $3,000 to the project. 

“This mosaic will be shown to families and generations to come, because the mosaic should last until the school falls down,” Stearns said. 

“The kids can run up to the mosaic and say, ‘I made that flower,’” she said. “It’s so sweet. They never, ever forget the flower they made.”