BENTONVILLE – Sunlight poured into the Great Hall of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Saturday as students gathered in front of their murals, adding the finishing touches.
Family, friends and art fans moved through the packed hall, stopping to admire the projects, talk and take pictures.
The event was part of the museum’s exhibition “America of Diego Rivera”. To coincide with the opening, Crystal Bridges invited Northwest Arkansas art teachers and their students to participate by painting Rivera-style murals, said Lori West, an art teacher at Tyson Middle School in Springdale.
Rivera’s paintings focus on the human experience of families and workers, good times, bad times, struggles and dreams, according to the Crystal Bridges website. Between the 1920s and 1940s, he worked in Mexico and the United States and was inspired by the cultures of both, the website states.
“We couldn’t do an exhibition of Diego Rivera’s work without involving the public,” said Amanda Horn, senior director of public relations at Crystal Bridges. “It’s about access.”
West’s seventh graders created three 4-by-8 panels, “The Diversity of Helen Tyson Middle School.” The middle section features a bookshelf with the names of countries and cities that the students represent, along with flags. There are other items important to young artists, including a papier-mâché canoe to represent Marshallese students.
“I think it’s all about diversity,” said student Yazmin Kasiti, who named the mural. “We’re all different. You want to paint something that has feeling and emotion. Include something personal.”
There was a tight deadline to almost complete the murals, with the final touches to be applied to the Great Hall. West said the students’ venture began on February 24. Progress has been slowed by days of snow, but the project was essentially complete Friday, West said.
“It was really hard,” Yazmin said. “It was really stressful. But seeing the result is worth it. It was fun because we all got to work on different parts.”
West divided his students into groups for different aspects of the project, including researching Rivera himself.
“The research helped us understand where it came from,” Yazmin said. “The thing I’ve learned the most is that everyone is different. You don’t know everyone’s background.”
West said he wants them to remember that their work was on display among the legends at Crystal Bridges.
“I couldn’t have picked a better team to handle a large-scale project like this,” West said. “They exceeded my highest expectations.”
Nine other schools participated – Alma Middle School, Arkansas Arts Academy, Eastside Elementary in Rogers, Springdale’s Har-Ber High School, Haas Hall Academy of Fayetteville and Springdale, Huntsville High School, Lincoln Junior High School of Bentonville and Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville .
It was a mix of public, private and charter schools representing different ages — elementary, middle, junior high and high school, Horn said.
The works will be on display at Crystal Bridges until March 26. Starting in mid-April through July 31, the paintings will be moved to five pop-up exhibition locations, Horne said – The Jones Center in Springdale, Rogers City Hall, the Rogers Experiment House, the Siloam Springs Public Library and the Fayetteville Public Library.
Across from the Tyson Middle School project stood a mural from Eastside Elementary School with the words “All Belong” in large letters above. Seven people – male and female and of different races – are depicted in the middle of the mural. In the background there are mountains, water and bridges. It was created for kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Eastside as part of an after-school enrichment program, art teacher Stephen Wise said.
“It was a lot of fun,” Wise said. “They learned a lot.”
They spent 2 1/2 hours on Wednesday working on it, and the mural was left in the classroom for other students to see and share suggestions.
“They did really well,” Wise said of his 20-man squad. “I had to help with the drawing. They wanted to paint the whole thing.”