Artist James Postill (back left from centre) and the 2013-14 Grade 6 and 7 class at Ellison Elementary School show the tiles they painted for the wetlands fresco mosaic mural at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre.

Students see fresco mural displayed at Allan Brooks Nature Centre

Ellison elementary students learn the art of fresco and paint tile mural showing wetland habitat.

It’s an art that was practised by French and Italian masters in the 15th century, and dates back even further to when prehistoric man applied images to cave walls. And now a group of students have been schooled in the art of fresco.

Students enrolled last semester in Kim Ondrik’s Grade 6/7 Ozone class at Ellison Elementary School are one of the first classes in B.C. to not only learn about fresco painting, but have actually practised the art itself.

Instructed in the process by Coldstream artist James Postill, the students have used fresco – executed by applying natural mineral pigments to freshly laid lime plaster while it is still wet – to paint wetland scenes on tiles for an outdoor mural now standing at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre.

It’s been exciting to see these kids learn in three weeks, what took me three years to learn,” said Postill, whose own fresco mural can be seen at the entrance to the Vernon Community Arts Centre.

“It’s a test of taking a medium and not only learning about it, but jumping in and actually applying it.”

Students began the process by troweling a rough layer of plaster made with lime and sand onto their tiles and tracing out their designs on them, some of which joined up to make a cohesive picture. Several days later, when they were ready to paint their designs, they troweled on a smooth layer of plaster, and using the pigments they had ground by hand, they painted their pictures on it.

“We met James initially at the wetlands near Ellison to get some ideas,” said Ondrik, adding the painting process came soon after. “I was skeptical at first as there seemed to be too many steps. I thought they would lose interest, but the students loved the process and the science of fresco. Many were engaged and the kids really connected with James for his gentleness and lack of judgement.”

Students involved in the project agreed with the challenge of painting the mural, but said it was worth it seeing the results.

“I liked sketching and seeing everyone’s drawing style,” said student Kloe Kurbis, while fellow student, Taelor Deere, said it was fun to do a different kind of art using a nature as the subject.

Others found the process rewarding towards their self-esteem.

“James let me get out my inner artist. Basically, I gave up wanting to be perfect and that helped me get my confidence,” said Cole Hutchinson.

“I found the process fun, working with James, and frustrating at times, but he didn’t take it out on us,” added Mason Marquardt.

For Postill, the support of the school, the students and the Allan Brooks Nature Centre was key to bringing the concept to life.

The project was made possible by grant funding from Art Starts in Schools, awarded through the B.C. Arts Council, and sponsorship from Tolko Industries Ltd, who donated $1,200 towards purchasing materials and erecting the mural.

“We are pleased to support this unique school project and to raise awareness of our local wetlands,” said Don Hanson, communications manager with Tolko. “The message aligns with Tolko’s commitment to responsible environmental performance, and we’re happy that the artwork will be on permanent display for the community to enjoy.”

The mural can now be seen on the east side of the Allan Brooks Centre, overlooking the pagoda and pond.


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