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Mural in the works at Harrison Park School

Two artists are helping students paint a mural at Harrison Park School.
Underwriting support from:
Terry Johnston and Richard App

Terry Johnston and Richard App /Roberta F. King

Detail of the Harrison Park School mural

Detail of the Harrison Park School mural /Roberta F. King

Richard App imagines that in the future adults will return to Harrison Park School with their kids to look at the mural he created in 2012. They’ll return, not only because it is good art, but also because they played a part in painting it, or are featured in the 36x8 foot piece. The mural, located on the second floor of the eighth grade wing of the school depicts the faces of the middle school student body.

To create the mural, Terry Johnston took photographs of the students and placed eight separate images side by side to create the 36-foot width of the artwork. The images were projected onto the wall and prepared surface and App and Johnston painted outlines of the heads, bodies and other features of the students. Objects like glasses, necklaces, logos and body and head angles are highlighted. “I wanted it to be something that the kids could identify with—could have been their school mascot, a theme or something that is current, but ultimately if it is you on the wall, you’re already invested in it,” App said.

The color choices are purposeful. “What’s really cool is that we’re using primary and secondary colors so everyone will look the same—no one is Hispanic, African American or white. Everyone has the same look,” App said. He and Johnston will use the experience to teach the students basic painting principles. Small groups of students, under the guidance of App and Johnston will finish the mural. “We want them to have more hands-on involvement than us. More than 20 students will work in small group with the artists. “It has been great fun. From the first time stepped into the door, we’re like rock stars to the kids. They’ve been so cool and easy to work with,” said Johnston. The students at the school are documenting the project with writing and photography, Johnston said.

“The coolest part of this process is seeing the kids react to the sketches. They come up, find themselves and their friends. They remember where they were when the photo was taken,” he said. By the time the mural is completed, the faces will be a mix of primary and secondary colors and maybe less distinguished one from another, but for now, the kids know where they are in the mural. 

App found the Harrison Park project while doing work for Stellafly Social Media at the school. In a conversation with school principal Mike Nassar, App mentioned this he is a Kendall College of Art & Design grad (the hallways at Harrison Park are college themed) the two began talking about other big art projects App had been involved in: Nessie from ArtPrize year one and the large Kendall College building mural from ArtPrize year two. “Mike [Nassar] just outright asked me if I’d like to do a mural at the school,” he said. “I had this idea about using the faces of all of the kids and asked Terry [Johnston] to take some photos and wanted to help paint. We have a lot of space to cover, so it is a lot of space for one person to cover.”

“This is my favorite thing to do—big projects. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to do these kind of things and when you can and do it so it impacts kids, that’s even better,” said App.

The mural will be completed by the end of the week.

Disclosure: The author works for Grand Rapids Community Foundation which makes grants to Harrison Park School.

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