Morristown High School is a big place, and Day One can feel intimidating.
But 100 freshmen had no time for jitters this fall. They hit the ground running as part of an experimental team-building project inspired by the late conceptual artist Sol LeWitt.
Students were given a mural diagram, as Sol LeWitt famously had done with assistants and fellow artists. Then the frosh had to collaborate on the mural’s execution.
Tasks were divvied up over a span of weeks. Some kids painted, others blogged or shot video. Teachers from several disciplines were involved, spearheaded by MHS humanities leader John Madden and English teacher Danielle Firavanti.
John hatched the idea with Scott Klepesch, technology supervisor for the high school, after they saw a Sol LeWitt retrospective at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in the Berkshires.
The finished product–a series of diamond-like geometric patterns on panels collectively measuring eight feet tall and 40 feet wide–will be unveiled Monday, Dec. 10, at the Morris District Board of Education meeting, at the Lafayette Learning Center.
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the exhibit moves to the board meeting of the Arts Council of the Morris Area, and on Friday, Dec. 14, it will be on display at the Gallery at 14 Maple from 5 pm to 8 pm as part of the Art Around the Park gallery tour.
You can get a flavor of the mural enterprise from our video, above.
The project began with chaos: A massive dominoes exercise on the first day of classes in September. John said the mural’s intricate patterns are meant to suggest the kinetic energy of the toppling tablets.
“I learned that communication is very important,” said freshman Danny Jacobs. “A couple of people who don’t want to communicate can ruin it for a larger group. Making those people communicate is important for the success of a group.”
“It really shows us the different ways we can think,” added classmate Eric Dalpe.
Freshman Matthew Mahoney regarded the project as an ice-breaker. “Everyone has to communicate well with each other,” he said, “and I think this is a way to bond with classmates and make new friends as well.”
The mural patterns looked simple at first, but the instructions were surprisingly complex, according to another student, Candace Salter. Attention to detail was important. “We’re having to talk to our peers to get stuff done…[it takes] communication, problem solving, critical reading,” she said midway through the project.
Blog posts by the freshmen were sophisticated, said John Madden, instruction leader for the humanities department. The students’ collaboration set the tone for the school year, and maybe for their high school careers, he said.
“I think they saw the value in a cross-curricular approach, doing something big at the beginning of the year, starting with a project rather than ending with one. What that does is fuel discussion for the rest of the year,” said John, a graduate of Johns Hopkins University who sings with fellow teachers in a punk band, the Dogs.
He and Danielle were joined in the Sol LeWitt venture by teachers David Emma (history), Mariel Kolker (physics/engineering), Kerry Fitzmaurice (math) and Brian Kievning (technology education).