A wall of science going up at Meany

Edmond S. Meany, an admirer of environmentalist John Muir, was one of the founders of the Mountaineers, Seattle's first conservation society, in 1908 and proceeded to serve as president of the club for nearly 30 years until his death in 1935.

No doubt he would approve of a project at a school that bears his name. The sixth- grade science classes at Meany Middle School this year are creating a huge tile mosaic mural with an environmental theme to enhance the school's main entrance.

Under the guidance of artist-in-residence Chris Cocklin-Ray, a professional ceramist, and her assistant, Sean Hurley, an art student at Cornish College of the Arts, the sixth-graders are designing and making the tiles, glazing them and giving them to Ray and Hurley for firing in their brand new ceramics kiln - which presents a set of problems. More on that later.

The mural involves five large figures representing the environment: a wave, an octopus, a student, a flower and a bird. Each large figure is created from foot-square tiles. The individual tiles carry part of the large design and are highly detailed in the background with an individual design. Four of the large designs are created with 30 large tiles to form panels 10-feet high and 3-feet wide. They will symmetrically flank the larger, wave figure panel, which will be 10-feet high and 4-feet wide.

"Water is our general theme," Ray explained. The students submitted images of flora, fauna, water and ocean life. One image was chosen from each of the five science classes and patterns made from them.

"Every child in the sixth grade has had an opportunity to make a square of this," Ray said, motioning to a swarm of foot-square, unfired tiles spreading across the hardwood floors of the art room. She was beaming.

"The entire sixth grade, every last one of them," she said with an even wider gesture and grin. "Which is kind of a nice introduction to the school for this group."

Meany school houses sixth through eighth grades, so the sixth-graders are the newest and youngest students.

This is far from the first mural Ray has done, and not even the first one at Meany. She was artist-in-residence last year when some 250 students worked together to create the school's Book Wall, a mural memorializing 10 popular middle-school-level books. That project included the entire sixth grade, as well as science, language arts and leadership classes - nine classes in all.

The Book Wall, in the hallway next to the school gym, is smaller than this new entry mural. The brightly glazed, tile mosaic is 1-foot wide and 30 feet long.

This year, as last, the mural project is funded through a City of Seattle Small and Simple Neighborhood Block Grant. Tracy Krauter headed up both efforts. Last year the grant focused on art, since Meany had lost its art teacher. This year the grant focuses on science. Krauter said, jokingly, that her goal is to tile the entire school.

"I've got a kindergartner, so we have years to go," she said.

Both Krauter and Ray singled out Sharon Reuter, the Meany science teacher, for her support and encouragement.

"We have received unlimited support from her," Ray said. "She deserves all the kudos we can give her." She said the entire class schedule has been hopelessly disrupted by the project.

Hurley, 36, is working on the mural project as part of his studies at Cornish. He said working with Ray counts as an internship that will help him, eventually, earn a master of fine arts degree at Cornish. He also has a kindergartner at Stevens Elementary School, the same school Krauter's youngest attends, and that is how he got involved with this project.

"We're pretty much tag-teaming the thing," Hurley said. He explained that they work together well because Ray is a ceramist and his background is mostly in painting and printmaking. "[The process] has been pretty organic."

"I'm having a lot of fun," Hurley responded to a question, then decided that fun was not really the word that fit. "It has been rewarding," he said.

The tiles, more than 160 of them including border tiles, are nearly complete, but still need to be fired, baked at high temperature in a ceramics kiln.

Unfortunately, last year the school's old kiln burned out. It was old, without a fail-safe timer, and was left on too long. The good news is that this year's grant paid for a brand new, state-of-the-art kiln with all the safety features. It has been purchased and delivered to the school, and everyone is eager to get the pieces fired.

The bad news is that hooking the kiln to electric power requires a professional electrician, and it just hasn't been a top priority yet for the school district.

The school hopes to dedicate the Science Wall mural in March, but a firm date has not been established.

"It's all dependent on the Seattle School District electrician and when he gets here," Ray said with something of a resigned shrug.

At the end of the project the kiln will remain at the school and be available for public use.

In the meantime, the grant requires quite a lot of "in kind" matching with volunteer work. Last year, the Miller Community Center, which is adjacent to the school, was a great help, but the school would like to see lots of volunteers from the community, too. Volunteers can help almost any time, but there are two dates coming up that the neighbors should know about:

Feb. 11 - This is a Saturday class at the school, open to both adults and children. This class, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will teach the fundamentals of making pottery. Participants in this free class can make a vase and help with the mural tiles. Snacks will be available, but participants are advised to bring a sack lunch.

March 4 - Grouting and installation day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adults are requested to come and help put the finished mural in place on the entry wall. "We need all the help we can get," Krauter said.

For more information about how you can get involved in the Science Wall mural, contact Tracy Krauter, by e-mail at tracy@impwear.com or call 324-3255.

Meany Middle School is located at 301 21st Ave. E.[[In-content Ad]]