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Resurrecting Art History: Waterlilies That Connected a Community

Britt Sodersjerna

By the time you are on your last semester of high school, every senior has the same feeling. You cannot wait to leave. To combat the laziness and apathy, my high school strongly encouraged that we complete an internship or project to gain work experience. (or maybe just so we weren’t a bad influence on the underclass students!) This started a six week long journey in recreating Claude Monet’sBridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies’ on a nine foot wall in my public high school.

My friend and I decided that we wanted to call attention to something that bothered both of us. In our school district, the academic areas are extremely competitive, and the arts often were overlooked. While there are great teachers in both visual and performing arts, these teachers never gained the recognition they deserved.  The school always had its focus somewhere else, and the arts education suffered because of it.

While brainstorming ideas with our art teacher, we mentioned our  interest in art history to him,  and he promptly brought us to a bookcase in an overflowing supply closet full of art history textbooks. He said those textbooks had been sitting there for years, because the school stopped offering art history classes due to poor attendance.

Claude Monet, Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies

Hearing this shocked both of us.  We had no idea that students lacked interest in the subject, as art history was a subject we had both wanted to study for a long time. Our response to this was to replicate an artwork of historical significance in order to make a statement to the school board, and to demonstrate the importance of the arts.

Besides a less than ideal location in the center of a hallway with a ton of foot traffic, creating the mural was a long, complicated process. We had to plan so many details including figuring out what art supplies to buy, purchasing the supplies.  Completing the mural took us six full weeks.

We had to drive to Boston, (a one hour trek), just to buy acrylic paints in bulk.  We tediously measured out a grid on the wall using measuring tapes and yardsticks to plan out the placement of the image.  We painted countless layers of acrylic paint in an effort to replicate Monet’s brush strokes. This mural was so much more work than either of us could have ever imagined.

The entire time we worked on the mural, a mix of students and teachers that we had never even spoken to came up to us and asked questions about our mural.  A lot of people didn’t even know what the painting was of. I distinctly remember someone saying, “Is that some place in our town?”

We had other people who come up to us and tried to guess the artist, and we ended up hearing a lot of “Van Gogh.” I thought for sure that Monet would have been popular enough for people to recognize his work, so it was surprising to see how many students knew so little about art history.

Other people came up to us and talked about Monet, and about ‘Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies’. We discovered that most people really did not have any remote knowledge of art history. We realized through these casual conversations that these people we spoke to as we painted were our greatest inspiration. If only one person saw the finished mural, and was genuinely interested in some way, than we accomplished what we set out to do.

Along with all the questions came a lot of really encouraging feedback, from both faculty and students. One faculty member in particular, a guidance counselor, would come by at the end of every day and comment on our work. She’d tell us what she thought was working and what wasn’t, and what she thought needed to be redone to look more like the original painting. We attracted so much attention that we were even the subject of an article in the school newspaper!

When we decided the mural was complete, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of our shoulders. Neither me or my friend had ever worked for so long on a single piece of artwork. Despite the tremendous amount of time and work, the mural was a really great experience for both of us, as neither of us had completed a project of that scale before.  

When the other student internships wrapped up, the school hosted an exhibition for us to see the results of all of the other internships. From students writing essays, composing music, to volunteering for different organizations in various fields, it was really special to see our peers whom we had grown up with, explore their passions. Honestly, the feedback I was most afraid of receiving was on that day, from my peers. Yet I was surprised that my peers just kept telling us that the mural was a great idea, and they loved the final product.

Resurrecting Art History: Waterlilies That Connected a Community
Resurrecting Art History: Waterlilies That Connected a Community

While it’s unlikely that my high school is going to add art history back into the curriculum anytime soon, I still think our project was a huge success. The interest in our mural from the school community was real. Recently, I was looking through this year’s yearbook, and I saw our mural scattered throughout several photos: in the backgrounds of club photos and even in the faculty headshots.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback on our mural was a breath of fresh air. The experience really encouraged both me and my friend to keep working harder, and to continue to advocate for the arts.

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