By Kevin Coughlin
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how do you calculate the value of a mural that spans both sides of an entire hallway?
Let’s just say that if it’s measured in smiles, then the Normandy Park School has a very valuable work of art.
All 336 students–kindergartners through 5th graders — pitched in to paint a colorful history of New Jersey that should enthrall visitors long after they have graduated. The young artists seemed justifiably pleased with their acrylic creation at Thursday’s dedication ceremony in Morris Township.
“I liked the Jersey Shore,” volunteered 4th-grader Aaniyah Stewart.
Never mind that she personally helped paint the Thomas Edison panel. She gravitates to the sprawling sand-and-surf depiction of Margate, complete with Lucy the Elephant.
“It reminds me of summertime. It’s my favorite time.”
The youths were guided by professional muralist Caren Frost-Olmsted, a Basking Ridge painter with roots in Morristown. Her three-week mini-residency was underwritten by the Morris Educational Foundation, Morris Arts and Normandy’s Home School Association.
“The hardest part was taking the laundry list, and deciding how do I get in everything that the students voted for having in the mural,” said Olmsted, whose blue jeans looked like a paint palette.
“We took a survey of our favorite three things in New Jersey!” explained 5th-grader Anna Sacus.
Most places favored by kids and parents made the cut: The Morristown Green. The Vail Mansion. Morristown High School. The Seeing Eye.
The Statue of Liberty is the proud contribution of Sacus and 4th-grader Naina Slaughter. There are nods to Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, too. (From the parents’ ballots, we’re guessing.)
Each painting started as a drawing stenciled by Olmsted, with the aid of photos projected onto the walls. Trained in theater set- and lighting design at Bates College, she has carved a niche in New Jersey schools, where she has spearheaded more than 30 mural projects.
Olmsted caught the eye of Tracy Fox, a parent on Normandy’s cultural arts committee, at the annual arts education showcase by Morris Arts. HSA Co-President Getchel Lubke got behind the project, too.
Thursday’s ribbon-cutting included Morris School District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast and Barbara Reuther, director of arts in education at Morris Arts.
One of the mural’s biggest fans is Normandy Park alumna Lora Clark, who also happens to be the principal. She hopes the week-long painting experience has taught pupils important lessons:
“That they will all leave a lasting impression at the Normandy Park School. That they matter. That education is a journey. And they left their marks.”