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Like the pieces of stained glass, tile and mirror permanently positioned into iconic Westford scenes, a mosaic art project at the Norman E. Day School, last month, connected members of the school community in a groundbreaking manner.
“It really brought the whole school together,” said Day School Assistant Principal Lori McDermott. “We had volunteers from every walk of life inside the school, from inside the office, to parent volunteers coming in, some teaching assistants, reading interventionists, math interventionists…people who usually don’t come together…”
It was an artist-in-residence project brought to Westford by Lizz Van Saun of Hopkinton, New Hampshire. Saun has been teaching the art form to students around the region for a decade.
Day School Principal Chris Sardella said he discovered Saun one September when he went to a state fair in Springfield and spotted her display in the New Hampshire pavilion.
But paving the way to bring the artist to the school took time. The project cost $5,237, according to a newsletter update Sardella published in November. The Westford Education Foundation contributed $2,400 toward the project, and the Westford Cultural Arts Council, $300, Sardella stated. The remainder was covered by fundraising efforts.
“It took more than a year to complete this because of the funding that we needed,” Sardella said, “but also it was a tremendous amount of preparation in thinking of how we could apply this to the curriculum.”
In preparing her project, Saun said she researched the town to familiarize herself with the wildlife and key buildings. But Saun assigned even a deeper purpose to her project.
“It’s really about creating community through the art of mosaic,” she said, calling the process a metaphor. “Every person matters, every piece matters.”
She had started out wanting to be a children’s book illustrator, she said, but ended up doing portraits of animals and teaching budding artists how to paint with water colors and how to draw. In 2002 she began exploring mosaic art but it wasn’t until she brought a sample of her mosaic artwork to Market Days in Concord, New Hampshire, in summer 2010 that her focus shifted.
“A teacher asked me if I could do a project for the students,” she said. So she gathered her recycled stained glass pieces, laser-cut mirrors, pre-cut tile bits, and porcelain, and arrived in Barnstead, New Hampshire, with 3-feet by 4-feet frames and led the elementary school students in the production of four mosaics with the themes of love, peace, hope and happiness.
From there she said she began using the art as “a tool to teach children about what they’re studying and seeing it come to completion.”
So when she landed in Westford, the objective was to incorporate the grade three through five science curriculum covering the life cycle of the plant, animal habitats and ecosystems. For third-graders who were studying Westford history in social studies, she incorporated the town’s iconic buildings. In addition, she was asked to represent the changing seasons.
The suggestions came from art teachers Pam Perron and Natasha Evans who created rough sketches and then asked the students to make pencil drawings of the scenes, Saun said. Saun received about 400 drawings to incorporate into six scenes.
“I had to do quite a bit of research to get it right because I wanted it ultimately to be a teaching tool,” she said.
The students got down to work on Jan. 22. A week later they were ready to grout the pieces into place permanently and on Jan. 31 the presentations were unveiled. There were winter, spring, summer and fall scenes, as well as transitional scenes of spring to summer and summer to fall.
The six mosaic pieces now hang on the school’s cafeteria walls and are available for viewing by the public any weekday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
It appears the project worked just as hoped.
Said one student, “I loved doing this project because…we’re working together. It’s so fun fitting the pieces in, trying to connect them, and it’s amazing what you can do.”
Follow Joyce Pellino Crane on Twitter @joypelllinocrane.