Pointers Run Elementary School fourth-grader Ellie Matthews approached the 32-foot-long mural and searched among the more than 600 glazed clay portraits for her place in posterity.
"I'm over here," said Ellie, who was among the Pointers Run students, faculty and staff who created the permanent mural that was unveiled Wednesday at the Clarksville school's 20th-anniversary celebration.
The school worked with mosaic artist Amanda Pellerin to craft the mural, which is 31/2 feet high and includes portraits and other works that school officials painted on paper. The paper works were then placed atop moist slabs of clay and etched into the clay.
"It was really fun," Ellie said, "because I like making the shapes in the clay, tracing over my portrait in the clay and painting."
The students etched again, painted and glazed their impressions, and Pellerin, who is also a teacher at Baltimore Clayworks, fired them in a kiln to create the finished products, most of which were iPod-sized clay works that were matted on a hard surface, grouted and framed. The mural is mounted in a busy hallway next to the Pointers Run blacktop, and school officials say it's there to stay.
"It's an everlasting souvenir to the community," Pointers Run art teacher Lisa Huriaux said. "Having the students have a piece of work that will live on forever is a great gift."
The project was part of the Howard County Arts Council's efforts to provide schools with funding for artists in residence. The council and the Pointers Run PTA, physical education and art departments provided funds for the elementary school to bring in Pellerin as an artist in residence, and the groups also raised funds for art supplies.
"The most exciting thing is that I worked with every single student in the school," Pellerin said. "Because the assignment was the same for all ages, it was exciting to see, across the board, that every child could achieve their self portrait, but based on their ages, it really showed the way they thought of themselves or see the world."
Students began crafting the mural in November and completed it in January. It was mounted during spring break but officially unveiled during a celebration that included recognition of staff who, like Huriaux, have worked at the school since its beginning 20 years ago.
Ellie, who is originally from England, said she plans to return to her home country soon, but other students said they would likely revisit the school and the mural after moving on to middle school.
"It's a birthday gift," fourth-grader Annabel Smoot said about the mural. "It was fun to paint it because it was hard to find the right color of paint."
The mural is among more than 250 student works of art that are on permanent display at the school. Other works include framed paintings, stained glass, murals, sculptures and even drawings on some ceiling tiles.
Principal Darlene Fila, who has led the school since 2000, said the mural unveiling and celebration are among several events Pointers Run has used to welcome the more than 170 students from Fulton Elementary who will enroll at Pointers Run next school year as part of Howard County schools redistricting.
"It was a community thing. It was a nice expression of who we are at this time at 20 years," said Fila, who added that she and other staff, including secretaries and custodians, placed portraits or drawings on the mural.
Fila said she has emphasized the arts since she arrived at the school, but that arts education often gets overshadowed by emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the STEM subjects important to schools' efforts to meet federal education guidelines.
Pointers Run works to incorporate those STEM subjects and the arts, Fila said. Students who crafted the mural got firsthand lessons about shapes and symmetry, while the school's recent science fair featured students singing and playing instruments while parents visited the exhibits.
"We try to recognize all the arts in ways that are special," Fila said.