Rising from the Ashes

On June 26, 2010, in Community/Arts, by The News Staff

East Somerville Community School opens mural project

Lauren C. Ostberg

Before a December 2007 fire, the East Somerville Community School applied for a grant to create an outdoor mural.

By the time the grant was awarded, the electrical fire had closed the school, and its students were divided among the Edgerly and Cummings campuses.

However, Principal Holly Hatch, the school's art supervisor Luci Prawzdik and local muralist David Fitcher, went forward with the project. The resulting mural is the product of two years of student research, more than 300 years of Somerville history and a sign that the East Somerville school is on its way back.

To create the mural, third graders took trips to historic Somerville buildings, such as the old theater, while seventh graders researched the immigrant groups in the student and faculty body's ethnic background – 69 countries, in all.

Eighth graders led the younger students on a walking tour. Other grades dug up information about Somerville's relationship to the Ford plant, the Middlesex Canal and the brick making industry. Then they put their research into drawings, and muralist David Fitcher, who has been involved throughout the process, collaged these drawings into the mural.

This "design and research" phase lasted for one year. This past school year has been about painting the mural.

Because the school is divided into two campuses, and because the 80 panels are not easily portable, the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders on the Cummings campus have had more opportunities to paint than the younger students. This past Saturday, June 19, the school invited community members, particularly the younger East Somerville students, to work on the mural.

Art instructor Charlotte Huffman, who began working with the students in the second year, after the design phase was complete, said the project has been a boon to her students.

"We paint half of every class," she said. It builds the students' motor skills, she said, but it's also a great source of pride. "Most of projects are smaller than your desk. This is something huge, something everyone will see."

In keeping with the East Somerville Community School's history, Fitcher and the students have woven through a theme of historic Somerville fires, including a burning convent. Fitcher wryly notes that his student artists' scorched building is actually built above the remnants of Somerville first fire station.

The school has adopted the Phoenix as a symbol, and it appears in the mural's center and title, "Rising from the Ashes."

The renovation of the East Somerville Community School is still in its design phase, so its inner workings are up in the air. The exterior wall, however, will not be damaged, so the muralists are confident that this community art depiction of Somerville's history will be a public part of the building's future.


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