By Barbara Pash
11:10 AM EST, November 12, 2013
It's not easy painting a wall, especially one that's outdoors, made of concrete and measures over 46 feet by 10 feet.
Since early fall, though, that's what a dozen-plus students at Owings Mills High School have been doing under the guidance of art teacher Mary Elizabeth Dickman and her colleague Meghan Manniso.
In the process, the young artists and their teachers have been turning an art project into a community happening.
"We've been getting a lot of attention," Dickman said, noting she and Manniso have been shepherding the project from concept to colorful mural.
Considering its size, it's hard to ignore the wall at 10602 Reisterstown Road, at a busy intersection with Tollgate Road owned by Matthew Blauvelt, who said the cement canvas was built as a retaining wall to hold the hill behind it in the 1980s.
Not that its unadorned state bothered him when he acquired the Jiffy Lube franchise in 2006. That attitude changed after Blauvelt began noticing the murals that decorate various walls in Baltimore City, which gave him an idea.
"I called Owings Mills High to see if they were interested," says Blauvett, whose timing couldn't have been better. "They wanted to get the kids out in the community and do something public."
Blauvett didn't put any restrictions on the mural other than "something that represents Owings Mills." Not only did he volunteer his wall, he has paid for all the exterior latex paint, brushes and supplies, $700 so far. "They put in the labor, and I bought what they needed," he said.
Dickman and Manniso decided to make the mural a school-wide project. They took the dimensions of the wall, then asked members of the school's National Honor Art Society to come up with ideas, posted them and had the entire study body vote.
"They told us it should be a description of Maryland," said Madison Rosner, a 12th-grader and president of the school's National Art Honor Society, whose design tied with Brandy Leno, also a 12th-grader and vice president of the art honor society, as winners.
"We decided to put the two designs together," said Leno, who researched old Owings Mills businesses on the Internet for her design.
The resulting mural references historical buildings of the area, flanked on either side of the central motif by American and Maryland flags. Other elements include the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens logos, not to mention a Chesapeake Bay blue crab.
Dickman downloaded the design to her laptop and one night, when it was dark enough to see the outline, projected it on the wall for the students to trace. Within minutes, a police officer arrived, summoned by a passer-by who assumed the kids were defacing the wall.
Since then, for the past month, at least a dozen students show up for two hours three days a week to paint the mural on the wall. Some are art society members. Others are students who just want to participate.
"Our assistant principal, Elliott Flam, came out one day to paint," Dickman said.
The police officer was the first of what's turned out to be a flow of visitors to the mural. Drivers wave, give a thumb's up, lower their window and shout compliments to the students. People stop to take pictures of the mural, the students painting the mural and themselves in front of the mural.
"We must have 20 to 30 people come by while we're painting," Dickman said. "The other day, one woman gave me money to buy pizza for the students."
Dickman figures the mural will be done by the middle of this month, at which time there is talk of some kind of ceremony.
"I've done 10-foot murals, but this was intimidating — even for me," said Dickman, who couldn't be happier with the results.
Rosner and Leno are happy with it, too. "I love it. It looks exactly how we conceived it to be," Rosner said. "It's really cool to do something like this," Leno said.
Blauvett's opinion of the mural is that it's "awesome." He said he didn't know if the school would be interested in the wall, nor did he realize how much time and effort would be involved.
Regardless, he's thrilled with the outcome.
"The whole project turned out way better than I anticipated," he said.
Dickman agrees, but for different reasons.
"It's been a great project for everyone," she said, "the school and the community."
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