As children filter through Edison Elementary's main hallway, many instinctively raise their hands to brush fingertips across the soft, rounded glass pieces of a flowing mosaic mural.
"Kids love to touch it, and that's OK," said Josh Wolcott, Edison principal, about the Mauricio Robalino piece installed at the school.
In dazzling hues borrowing from every color of a rainbow, the mural, "A Day in Walla Walla," stretches a massive 44 feet, rises 6 feet, and captures the beauty of the town on one glorious day.
The artwork was commissioned by the Washington State Arts Commission as an Art in Public Places installation. Funds from the Edison Elementary reconstruction, as well as a share of funds from construction work at the Washington State Penitentiary, covered the cost of the art. The state program dedicates one half of one percent of new construction projects toward public artworks.
Public schools have been common recipients of art through Art in Public Places, and Walla Walla schools hold their share of works.
The Edison mural, and a colorful flower sculpture situated outside the school's main entrance, are the latest art installations in local schools. Sharpstein, Blue Ridge, and Berney Elementary are also stewards of art pieces, collected from construction projects through the years.
The art installation at Berney Elementary stands in contrast to the work at Edison, and not just because more than 30 years stand between their commissions.
"Alice's Attic," by Gloria Crouse, hangs from the ceiling in a corner of the school's library, begging viewers to raise eyes upward. Consisting primarily of Plexiglas panels and compartments, the depth of the work comes in the dozens of objects carefully placed in each space.
There are toys, like the small doll and movie action figure, that tell a story about the era. There're toy cars bulked together in a sphere in one section; feathers, twigs and even an animal skull in another. Like the mural at Edison, the artwork is one to take in over time, with multiple views.
Berney librarian Michelle Shaul said she'll often take children to the corner where the piece is installed, which also happens to be located above a small stage, and play a game of "I Spy" with them using the various objects in the piece.
Commissioned in 1979 and installed the following year, "Alice's Attic" is showing signs of aging. Some of the Plexiglas has yellowed, and one small section - a cube holding golf balls - fell off at one point.
Berney Principal Donna Painter said the state Arts Commission recently contacted her to evaluate whether the piece should be decommissioned or restored. The agency decided to preserve the piece, and will begin restoring it sometime this year.
The news was welcomed by the family of the artist who wanted to see the work preserved, Painter said. Crouse, a Seattle-based artist, died in 2011.
The value of art as a teaching vehicle is not lost in the program. The state Arts Commission is looking to expand its art in schools education, even as the arts are among the first programs cut in public schools.
Augusta Farnum, an Edison parent, said "A Day in Walla Walla" always sparks conversations, and stirs different ideas in Edison students.
There is a swan that seems to be swimming over mountain tops. A woman, her hair flowing behind her as she rides freely on horseback. Two baseball players preparing for a game. And a curious bug with three small, rounded mirrors on its back, hung at just the right height to reflect back a child's face.
Saturated with scenes, details and colors, the mural is not easily taken in at one glance, but rather offers new discoveries and different meanings with each encounter. Art is filled with ‘secrets,' Farnum described.
"They love finding the different things in here and telling you what they find next," Farnum said.
Farnum, who also coordinates the city's Picture Lab program through the Carnegie Art Center, said the Art in Public Places program offers its own brand of learning to not just students, but the community. Picture Lab brings art instruction into classrooms at all area elementary schools, public and private, through a combination of art history and hands-on art projects. The program is run entirely with volunteers with support from schools.
"I think we're often in tunnel vision getting through the day. Art reminds us life is more than that," she said.
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317.
About Art in Public Places
The Washington State Arts Commission Art in Public Places program facilitates the acquisition, placement, and stewardship of artwork in state-funded building projects throughout Washington State.
The 0.5 percent for Art funds are generated by new construction projects in state agencies, community colleges, universities, and public schools. Local committees representing project sites make all final artwork selection decisions.
The State Art Collection includes 4,600 artworks that represent more than 30 years of acquisitions.
Art in District Schools
"Alice's Attic," by Gloria Crouse - 1979
plastic, wood and fiber
Blue Ridge Elementary
"Porcelain Tile Mural," by Rudy Autio - 1984
"Hop Scotch," by Kay Buckner - 2002
oil on canvas
"Children in the Field," by Louise Williams - 2002
pastel on paper
"Love of Reading, Love of Life," by Louse Williams - 2001
pastel on paper
"Walla Walla Blossoms," by Mauricio Robalino - 2010
painted stainless steel, aluminum
"A Day in Walla Walla," by Mauricio Robalino - 2010
glass mosaic with concrete on wood