Visitors to Fallston High School, as well as the students and staff who are there every day, are being treated to the sight of a student-designed and fabricated mosaic installed at the entrance to the school's main office.
The mosaic, which was dedicated Dec. 2, stretches 45 feet across the top of the office entrance. A centerpiece is mounted directly below it, depicting two hands holding a seedling with the sun rising over the earth in the background.
About 100 art students designed and built the mosaic, with guidance from Fallston art educator Andrea Sauer and resident artists Sue Stockman and Bobby Malone of St. Michaels.
"This was the most personal, collaborative project that we've ever done, and we learned so much about each other," senior Lilly Smith, one of the students involved in the project, said.
Sauer obtained grant funds from Target and the Maryland State Arts Council to cover the cost of the project.
The previous school year, 2012-2013 was Sauer's first at Fallston. Her students worked with resident artist Kevin Reese of Washington, D.C., to design and build three large mobiles that were installed at the entrance to the school library this past March.
She said last week that she plans to hold two projects with resident artists each school year and is working to write five to six grant applications each year to obtain funding for them.
Having the students create projects that could be in the school long after they have left helps them take pride in their school environment, Sauer said.
"If they feel like the [school] space is friendly and welcoming and they've created something and they're vested in it, then that's important," she explained.
"It just makes you feel good to know you has a part in that," sophomore Alexa Horney, another of the students involved in the project, said.
Junior Kyle Hufham, who also worked on the mosaic, described it as something that makes the school environment more enjoyable.
"School is not always the happiest place," Kyle explained. "It's not like everyone wants to be here, but when you've helped create a piece of art it's like a piece of you is here."
Lilly Smith, along with junior Natasha Charitonuk, worked on the previous mobile project.
Natasha noted that "a little bit of everything" was used to make the mosaic.
It was designed to promote environmental stewardship, and was made from recycled materials such as discarded tiles, mirrors and broken mugs and plates.
"It really showed, not only the importance of environmental stewardship, but the picture itself was made out of recycled materials, and so it really shows the message," junior Julia Miller, another participant, said.
Lilly said aspects of the mosaic which ended up in the final product, such as the rays of the sun, changing seasons and the hands holding the seedling showed up "again and again" in early student sketches.
"It was neat to be able to design it and see it through from the very, very beginning to the very end," she said.
Sophomore Jenna Sarandos also stressed the mosaic's message of caring for the environment.
"That's what the hands holding the tree represented," she said.
The students worked with Stockman, who creates jewelry, mosaics and murals, and Malzone, a woodworker, on about eight occasions from early November to the week of Thanksgiving.
"They got to know the students in eight days incredibly well," Sauer said.
Malzone and Stockman have worked with schools on similar artist-in-residence-projects on the Eastern and Western Shore.
"They're were just very welcoming the first day," Julia said.
She said the artists had the students give an "emotional check-in" at the beginning of each session so they could talk about what they were feeling, and fellow students could provide support if anyone was not feeling well.
"They were really awesome to work with," Julia recalled. "I could tell they really cared and they were really passionate about what they did."
She said Malzone and Stockman invited her to visit them in St. Michaels to see some of their other projects.
Sauer noted that working with Malzone and Stockman showed the students that art can be a "viable career choice."
Nearly all of the six students who spoke with a reporter last week raised their hands when asked if they wanted to pursue art as a career.
The students also took time to thank Sauer for her impact as a teacher, and lamented how she has taken on more students as schools have cut back teaching positions in light of the school system's current budget struggle.
Lilly said she attended a public hearing late last month on the county budget, hosted by County Executive David Craig.
That hearing, which was held in the Fallston High auditorium, lasted for about four hours, as teachers and school system leaders implored Craig to "fully fund" Harford County Public Schools budget request in the upcoming fiscal year. About 250 people attended.
"It was incredible, the number of people that were here," she remarked. "I have never seen that many teachers in one place in my entire life."
Julia said she did not think teachers receive "enough appreciation for what they do," and she called Sauer "the most understanding teacher that I've had."
"I'm really thankful that she gave us this opportunity," Julia said of the mosaic project.