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Catonsville Middle students turn school's wall into canvas

Mural to depict annual Fourth of July celebration

By Brian Conlin, bconlin@patuxent.com

3:27 PM EDT, May 15, 2012

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Nine Catonsville Middle School students armed with black paint and brushes turned a white wall into a nearly-complete mural evoking a familiar image of Catonsville.

Under the watchful eye of Catonsville muralist T. Mark Selby, the students filled in sections of the 30-foot long and 8-foot high wall near the school's tennis courts. Their brushwork produced fireworks bursting in the night sky, providing enough light to outline several figures in the foreground watching the Fourth of July celebration while Victorian homes dot the horizon.

"I think it's turning out really well. It really was quite an eyesore," said seventh-grader Caroline Pugh, who painted a lamp post. "I like how it's creative and let's me do something that beautifies the school."

A life-long Catonsville resident, Selby, 37, graduated from Catonsville Middle about 23 years ago and saw the blank wall as the "perfect canvas" for a learning opportunity.

"My idea was, I'll paint a mural and I'll have the kids help me paint, so they'll learn how an artist works," said Selby, who has painted murals in the Baltimore area since 1988. "The whole idea behind the mural is support the community."

Selby, who has seen many of his works end up in private homes and businesses, said he has seven publicly-visible murals in the Baltimore area.

"I would like to cover Catonsville and Baltimore with my murals," he said. "If I could get 20 within my lifetime, that would be awesome."

"All of the murals I do, and ones I see around the area, relate to the community and the people of the community," Selby said. "A mural can make a trashy, uneasy neighborhood feel alive and feel good and rich again."

Selby, whose youngest son, Luke, is an eighth-grader at the school, estimated that he could finish the Catonsville Middle mural in 16 to 20 hours, but would space it out over the month of May in order to accommodate the students' schedules.

Groups of students began helping Selby for an hour a week at the beginning of May. At that point, the bulk of the work was scraping and priming the wall.

"They didn't realize there was hard work first," Selby said.

Now that the students are applying paint, they can see the fruits of their labor.

"It's recapturing the moment of Fourth of July," said seventh-grader Aeuein Mabil, who has attended each of the town's parades since moving to the area from the Sudan in 2004.

"It's going to make it look like we paid an artist to do it, but we actually did it ourselves," he said.

The paint supplies for the mural were donated by Sherwin Williams of Catonsville.

In appreciation of the donation, Selby will paint "Sherwin Williams covers Catonsville 2012" on a banner that hangs from a lamp post on the right side of the mural.

The work, primarily done in black and blue acrylic paint, should last 30 years, Selby said.

A graffiti protector, which blocks UV light, will be added to the mural to keep it pristine.

Selby said he consulted with Catonsville Middle principal Michael Thorne about what exactly the mural should portray.

"We just wanted it to speak to the community and be something we could all be proud of," Thorne said.

Seventh-grader Riley Williams called the mural "very dramatic" because of its contrast of colors.

Riley's father, Edward Williams, is president of the Catonsville Art Guild and has begun leading a team of teenagers on a mural on the side of a building near the intersection of Frederick Road and Bloomsbury Avenue.

"I think he put a lot of emotion into the work," Riley said of Selby's design. "Since I really like fireworks, it's just a privilege to work on the mural."

Nolan Bennett had just filled in the silhouette of a boy waving the American flag when he talked about what he liked about the project.

"It adds more color to the school," he said. "I like to be able to say I helped work on that in five years when I'm in a different school."