Keheley Elementary School has seen thousands of students walk through its doors over the last 27 years, but next fall, a new class of children will come in to a more welcoming place of learning now that the entrance has received a colorful mosaic makeover.
Over the past couple of weekends, the east Cobb elementary school invited students, teachers and parents to have a hand in the masterpiece. The design covers six columns at the school’s main entrance and serves as an artistic finish to more than $1 million in renovations to the building, playground and landscape completed over the last year.
Since the school opened in the fall of 1986, Keheley has looked essentially the same: a grey, one-level concrete edifice with little aesthetic detail.
“Schools are a place of learning and sometimes schools have not-so-inviting fronts, so to be able to make the environment reflect what’s going on on the inside on the outside is important,” Keheley art teacher Renee Theriot said. “I think this is a project that does that. It shows the creativity and learning and things that are happening inside that you may not be able to see from the stark grey color on the outside.”
A handful of volunteers braved the Sunday morning rain to help make the school’s outside reflect the rich learning going on inside the classroom walls.
Donna Pinter, a 25-year mosaic artist based in Roswell, said there are three levels to the design she created, with two pillars reflecting each concept.
The first two pillars seen at the entrance depict a floral motif, which she said is symbolic of the “flowering minds” and children’s developmental growth.
The second two have a “helping hands” theme with students of all colors and hands of all sizes representing the relationship between students and their teachers.
“We have a lot of the children’s hands incorporated in it,” Pinter said. “They actually made their handprints in clay.”
The final set of pillars is designed with vines growing up the side with leaves and other natural elements.
“The leaves are all through there because I feel that trees represent wisdom and the leaves are the falling seasons of the years of (the students’) growth,” Pinter said.
While the school’s interior pillars were painted a couple of years ago to look like pencils and crayons, the outdoor columns have remained undecorated until now.
“As a school, the purpose (of installing a mosaic) basically was that we felt like we were walking into kind of a dull environment,” Theriot said. “We wanted to make this an art piece and I thought it would be really cool to have a community artist out so the kids could actually see a working artist.”
The project began last summer after Theriot saw one of Pinter’s outdoor mosaic pieces, “Symphony of Color,” on Barnett Street in the Virginia Highlands. She then contacted Pinter about doing a similar project at Keheley.
Judith Condon, visual arts supervisor with Cobb County School District, said she thought it was a great concept when she was initially approached with it, so she’s been volunteering her time to come out and help finish the work.
“We need to get art out into the world,” Condon said. “The power of having this imagery out in the front of the school to make an impact and to show the importance of these kids and their creativity and what they’re capable of doing is very important.”
After Pinter’s design was approved by Cobb Schools in December, Theriot and her students got down to work by rolling and cutting out about 500 lbs. of clay to make the tiles.
“Every kid in school made pieces, even kindergarteners, and they probably made 50 or 60 each,” Theriot said. The tiles then were painted and fired in a kiln.
Most of the other mosaic materials, including glass beads and mirrored tiles, were donated by local companies including AJ Glass and Home Depot, Theriot said.
With the last day of school Thursday, Theriot said her goal was to get all of the pieces attached to the pillars so students could get a feel for what the final product will look like. Colored grout will be applied over the next few weekends, she said.
“Some students may have to either come back and check out the finished product over the summer or wait until they return to school in the fall,” Theriot said.
While the students helped create the materials, only adults were there to install the sometimes-sharp tile pieces Sunday. Though they followed Pinter’s sketches closely, they were able to choose the color of the tiles and stones they applied to allow their creations to take on a more organic shape.
“I think it’s good to let the parents help out,” said parent volunteer Jason Rodriguez as he applied the wet clay to the pillar before strategically placing more glass stones.
Rodriguez, whose wife was part of Keheley’s first graduating class, has a 9-year-old daughter who attends Keheley. A Lassiter High School graduate, Rodriguez said he was glad to help leave a mark on a place his family loves.
“My wife took credit for that last weekend,” he said, pointing to an image of a young girl taking shape on one of the middle pillars. “(She chose) the red hair and blue eyes.”