Located fewer than 60 miles farther out the Aalska Peninsula than Pilot Point, Port Heiden is a friendly community with a well-attended school of 20 students, pre-K through 12th grade. I was lucky enough to get to spend two weeks working with the students, teachers, staff, parents and community members of Port Heiden, making a tessellation-based mural for the Meshik School. After class and on the weekends, I enjoyed visiting with local families, playing in a 3-man team basketball tournament and scouring the black sand beaches for Japanese glass fishing floats.
Before I left for Port Heiden, I used graph paper to design a tiled image for the mural based on the school mascot, a wolf. Meshik school already had several pieces of artwork which use wolf imagery, so I wanted to do something a little different. I drew a wolf face made of facets like a stained glass window and made sure the sides were mirror images. In the end, the information from each two square by two square block of the graph paper design would be painted onto one 4" x 4" wooden tile. One side was numbered so I could code the backsides of my mural tiles. The corresponding pieces on the right side of the mural were numbered the same with a star afterward. This was all to help me maintain a reflective symmetry
The first day of class, I laid out all of the blocks with the wolf design contours plus some of the surrounding tiles. After priming them, I had the younger students work on creating pieces for the background landscape theme using yellow and blue paint to stipple a tundra pattern onto blocks. The following day we worked on yellow and red blends in order to make orange. Both of these simple lessons help to reinforce their knowledge of color mixing principles. Then they added fun details to the tundra such as worms, spiders and berries (also pumice and glass balls which wash all the way up over the banks and into the tundra during storms!)
Meanwhile, the high school went to work on the wolf. My original idea was to have them make tessellation designs by hand, much like the ravens we painted in Pilot Point last year.
I had brought along some lino-cut tools and carving rubber as well, and it didn't take long to see that printmaking was where the teenagers' interest lay, So after a quick review of rotational symmetry, we used graph paper to design stamp blocks with repeated designs which allowed them to be printed multiple times with an ongoing pattern like a fabric design.
Because the shapes of the wolf design extended across portions of multiple 4" x 4" tiles, we needed to do a great deal of masking on areas which were not supposed to be getting certain patterns printed on them. Each of the older students was responsible for creating at least one carved block and making sure it was printed onto all of the tiles in each of two symmetrical sections of the wolf. It took a lot of patience and as many as four iterations of masking to get the right patterns printed onto all of the blocks. One of the patterns covered portions of fourteen blocks on each side of the face, 28 in all! (Try to find which area I mean.)
After the lion's share of the work was done on the mural, we hosted a public craft night at the school. Students, siblings, parents, grandparents, teachers administrators and other visitors all joined in to paint details into the tundra and make the mural a true community effort
Then all that remained was for me to assemble the pieces and mount it on the wall (with some help from the preschool teacher!)
Thanks to all of the kind and enthusiastic folks I worked with out in Port Heiden, my liaison, Tess McFadden, the Lake and Peninsula School District, the State Council on the Arts, and Aniakchak Contractors LLC for making this wonderful project possible! I hope you enjoy your artwork for many years to come!