ELLSWORTH — Sharks swim among the koi fish while jellyfish float and a turtle glides onto the sand at Ellsworth’s newest pond.

After almost four years of brainstorming, designing and painting, a colorful mural has been installed outside the entrance of the Klaas-Jonas Community Pool. The mural features a collage of freshwater and saltwater creatures, a sandy beach, and foliage against a background of a Vincent Van Gogh-inspired swirling sky.

The mural was created by Ellsworth Community District’s art teacher Mary Lewien and her students. The collaborative project began with the high school advanced art students in 2015 and has since involved Ellsworth’s fifth graders in 2017, middle and high school students, and summer school students. The project was used in Ellsworth High School’s annual Day of Service and has served as a capstone project. Around 300 students and staff have been involved in the process.

From left to right Hanna Hendrickson, Ellie Cummings, Eva Sallander, Kayla Kressin, Genna Perterson, Lander Levers, Payden Bingham and Allvia Wittenberg complete the clay composition during summer school 2019. Photo courtesy of Mary Lewien
From left to right Hanna Hendrickson, Ellie Cummings, Eva Sallander, Kayla Kressin, Genna Perterson, Lander Levers, Payden Bingham and Allvia Wittenberg complete the clay composition during summer school 2019. Photo courtesy of Mary Lewien

From an idea to a mural

Lewien previously worked with mosaics and wanted to create a mosaic that involved the help of the community and students.

“I was reassigned to the middle school and I looked out the window and I saw the wall and I was like someday that would be a great place for a mural,” Lewien said.

The newly installed mosaic is now visible through her art classroom window. Completing the project was one of Lewien’s professional goals.

To begin, students brainstormed design ideas and made sketches. They collaborated to create a final layout on tracing paper that incorporated the generated concepts. Using the tracing paper as a template, students cut out the tile pieces. The clay pieces go through two firings, which according to Lewien causes the pieces to shrink by 14%. As a result, students had to problem-solve to fill in the areas that the shrinkage provided.

Audrey Farrell (left) and Genna Peterson (right) work on the mural's clay pieces. Peterson has worked on the mural for all four years of its creation. Photo courtesy of Mary Lewien
Audrey Farrell (left) and Genna Peterson (right) work on the mural's clay pieces. Peterson has worked on the mural for all four years of its creation. Photo courtesy of Mary Lewien

The pond was started first with each kid creating their own creature. The students then had to figure out how to fill the gaps around the creatures. About seven months into the project they discovered they had to change the design. As a result, the pond area is more organic and the upper area of the mural is more precise and methodical.

“I’m really fond of the pond, just because it is so unique,” Lewien said. “It’s a little bit chaotic, but it’s all about how children’s lives are that way.”

The project allowed students to develop their creative and critical thinking skills. Lewien took the opportunity to teach students about famous artists which inspired the mural’s style. The mural’s bright-colored foliage was inspired by painter Henri Rousseau and the movement in the skies by Van Gogh.

“I didn’t want it to be we are just making a mural, I wanted it to be a learning process,” Lewien said.

She says her favorite part of the project has been the collaboration between the different groups of students and watching them reflect and critique.

”Seeing students work and solve problems. You know, that's a true learning experience for everybody,” Lewien said.