By Sue Botos
St. Christopher School’s class of 2013 may have moved on to high school, but a part of it will always remain, bidding everyone leaving the building to “Go in Peace.”
When classes started last week, students were welcomed by a ceramic tile mural curving through a school hall (created by students last year ranging from kindergartners through sixth-graders). They were also greeted by a pair of arches that children and visitors pass under when entering and leaving the building, crafted, respectively, by the former seventh- and eighth-graders. Students painted the individual tiles in May as part of a nearly two-week-long “Artist in Residence” program with ceramic artist George Woideck from “Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio,” a nonprofit educational foundation that brings artists from various disciplines to area classrooms.
“I always bring more energy back to my studio than I had when I left my studio,” said Woideck of his work with children.
“They have such a positive attitude, excitement and love of art,” added the Lakewood native, who has more than 35 years of arts experience, ranging from painting to performing and recording rock music. Woideck began working full time in clay in 1975, and initially established a line of functional stoneware pottery. More recently, Woideck has become well-known for creating major ceramic tile murals for schools, businesses and public places, including Westlake Porter Public Library, the Westlake High School Performing Arts Center and the Clark Metro Community Development Corp. His mosaic work can also be found in out-of-state venues like Chicago, New York and Maine.
The central mural, made up of about 500 painted tiles, is titled “Growing in Faith and Knowledge,” and depicts scenes of creative arts, sports, classes and sacraments. Art teacher Bonnie MacKay explained that the students developed the central mural’s main theme during a vision workshop. The work, which students pass on their way to art class, is also touchable art. “They can touch it and bump into it,” said Woideck, adding that the art is baked into the tiles as opposed to painting, where the medium sits on the surface.
He said that students shown in the work are “conglomerates” and are not portrayals of actual people.
Parent Jean MacNamara, whom MacKay said was a catalyst behind the project, remarked that while it took the students two weeks to do the painting, months of thought and collaboration went into the design.
“We wanted to see a future for art. We don’t see it featured in programs in schools as much now,” said MacNamara, whose family helped place the tiles. MacKay said a professional tile installer was needed for the departing mural, which is over a stairway. It depicts a dove and a sunset under the words “Go in Peace,” while the companion welcoming piece shows a dove and sunrise beneath the phrase “Smile, God Loves You.”
MacNamara said that funding for the project came from Parents and Teachers Helping Students (PATHS), an organization that raises funds to provide educational supplements to St. Christopher students. She said PATHS holds various fundraisers throughout the year, and the money raised is split among teacher wish lists. For this project, about $6,000 was granted.
At the Aug. 26 unveiling of the large main mural, Principal Joyce Needham remarked that she was looking forward to the students pointing out their tiles as they walked to classes. She didn’t have a long wait as students stopping in for their “day before school” orientation came by to show their tile to their parents. “It was a lot of fun and a good idea,” said fourth-grader Christian Cukon, who stopped to admire the work and chat a bit with Woideck. Eighth-graders Moira O’Conner and Natalie Heisterkamp said they were happy to be leaving artwork behind after they graduated.
MacKay credited Needham, parents and teachers as well as St. Christopher pastor the Rev. John Chlebo for their support of the project. “Thanks to (their support), the murals will brighten the hallways for years to come,” she stated.