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Trade a summer for Edwardsville's history?

A handful of SIUE students traded in their summer vacation plans to recreate a portion of Edwardsville's history.

Five members of the Painting and Drawing Association created a large-scale mural, which highlights Edwardsville's African-American heritage during the summer months of 2010. The mural was then installed at the former Lincoln School, located on Edwardsville's North Main Street. The original Lincoln School served the area's African American population from 1877 until the early 1950s, when the Edwardsville school district became integrated.

Hometown hero Mannie Jackson commissioned the mural project. Jackson was a student at Lincoln School prior to attending Edwardsville High School and becoming a basketball star. He later became a standout basketball player at the University of Illinois, a Harlem Globetrotter player and owner, and one of the most successful African-American businessmen in America, having a successful career first at General Motors and then at Honeywell Corporation.

The art students devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to the project. Jackson provided photos, newspaper clippings and other material that became the basis of the work. Students Steve Scott Emily Dunlap, Mike Wartgow, Alicia Hartsock and Zach Koch took over after that. Between the five, they devoted more than 1,000 hours to the creation of the mural, painting and assembling during a six-week period. The project proved to be a treasure-trove of new experiences for them all.

Using a master plan, the students "sketched out" individual designs in blue masking tape on each panel. Scott, Dunlap and Wartgow filled in the backgrounds, while Hartsock and Koch concentrated on the detailed work of faces and other images. "We used a total of 110 panels to create this," said Koch. "They are 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of untreated lumber, which required a lot of lifting and moving." Koch even reported some minor injuries, such as smashed fingers and feet from maneuvering the wood. "But it is something you just had to keep working through," he said

The students were familiar with using easels and regular canvas sizes for their artwork. The mural's large scale required them to develop new painting techniques, Hartsock said. "We leaned them against the wall, and then used chairs and ladders to reach the top." Occasionally, panels were laid flat on the floor and painted there. It took more than 15 gallons of paint to get the mural finished.

The sheer number of panels required extreme diligence and organization. "It was like a giant puzzle," Hartsock explained. The panels were individually numbered on the back, and the boards carefully stacked with scrap wood between them to prevent damage to the painted portions. Occasionally, adjustments and additional painting were needed when boards were reassembled and segments did not match up precisely.

When the mural was finished, a contractor took care of installing the piece. The company sprayed the painting with a sealant, and moved and assembled the artwork at the former Lincoln School. It should be on display for between one and two years.

Koch said the project proved to be an invaluable experience in preparing him and his fellow student for their upcoming lives as artists. "A lot of real-world learning took place in this," he said. "Some of it we knew, but we also picked up a lot as we went."

The mural will be on display at the former Lincoln School site indefinitely, as Jackson formulates plans for what to do with the historic landmark building.

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