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Public Art Teaches: ONU art education alumnus creates ‘dream’ mural with students for local business

May—Students in Chris Gaghan’s (BA/art education ’09) class know that murals, a form of public art, can enhance the environment. They also know that art can express civic values, transform a landscape, heighten awareness, or question assumptions.

And for his sixth grade students at Hicksville Elementary, a mural can also generate a collective expression of a community. This form of art, created in a public space, is something for everyone.

“The meanings and functions of murals vary widely, based on the societal and aesthetic values of the communities, businesses, and individuals that commission or create them,” said Chris.

He and his students started on “The Dream Pizza” project in December. “It started when I approached a local pizza restaurant, Red Angel Pizza, about joining the Hicksville Elementary Community Art Gallery,” explained Chris. “They were happy to participate in that initiative which I started last year. Every month, local businesses display our elementary student artwork. The Community Art Gallery has now grown to 10 local businesses displaying four students’ artworks every month for the local community to see and enjoy.

“While speaking with the manager about the Art Gallery opportunity, she also expressed interest in having a mural created by our local students. She said I could use a wall space, which at the time, only had a few random pictures and a coffee wallpaper border left behind from a previous business.”

The proposal seemed like a big challenge, but “I took a few pictures of the space and created a sketch of an idea so she could visually see my plan.” After working out the details, Chris thought the project could easily be created by his sixth grade students.

The final concept called for every sixth grader to create his/her own “dream pizza.” A dream pizza could be one with toppings “they normally eat with their families, or it could have toppings that may be a little outside of the box—or in the case, the pizza box,” described Chris.

Red Angel happily donated 100 nine-inch pizza boxes to the art program. Work began on the project in February. Each sixth grade class voted on their six favorite toppings. Then, those toppings were created out of paper clay and painted for realism. “Toppings ranged from pepperoni to bacon to Doritos to gummy worms,” said Chris. 

After painting the toppings, all 78 students cut-out from paper a nine-inch circular disc to act as their pizza. “They painted it to look like it was covered in the sauce of their choosing (marinara, PB&J, chocolate, and buffalo were among the favorites). Then, they created a crust out of the paper clay for the edges. Students chose their personal toppings to attach to their pizza to create their “Dream Pizza.”

When displayed together, the pizza mural would have a massive impact on the restaurant’s visitors and customers.

“The project had many delays due to the rough winter and snow days, but students were motivated to complete it by the deadline. In late March, all the completed artworks were attached to the inside of the donated boxes and later mounted in a tiled, mosaic fashion on the wall in Red Angel. Each pizza had the students’ name and their list of toppings and sauces they chose.”  

Along with the fun and creative process of creating pizzas, students also learned about the purpose of mural creation and the impact they can have on the viewers. “In my classroom, I want students to create and appreciate art.”

There were many learning objectives, including:
how art and design elements and principles were used in artworks to produce certain visual effects and create meaning,
• the use of observations, life experiences and imagination as sources for visual symbols, images, and creative expressions,

• the demonstration of technical skills and craftsmanship in the use of materials, tools, and technology to solve an artistic problem,
• how to experiment with a variety of techniques and working methods when creating an original work of art,
how to generate ideas and engage in thoughtful planning when solving a visual arts problem,
• how to transform perceptions and processes into two and three dimensional artworks,
• how to explain what makes an object a work of art using a range of criteria,
• and how to assess personal progress to improve craftsmanship and refine and complete works of art.

“The process was documented in an article on the front page of the Hicksville Tribune,” mentioned Chris. “We had positive feedback from staff, families, and community members since the mural’s installation. The plan is to continue the project every school year with each new group of sixth graders and swap out the pizzas on display.”

Art has the ability to inspire others. It is the hope of Chris that “it will be a really intriguing installation for a local business and also will inspire people to visit Red Angel, visit Hicksville, and most importantly, visit our school to see all of the fantastic creativity from our students throughout the year.”

Chris originally grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville, Ohio. After graduating from Ohio Northern in 2009 with a BA degree in art education, he worked as a 5th and 6th grade art teacher in the Nordonia Hills School District near the Cleveland/Akron area. In 2011, he moved to Northwest Ohio where he is now teaching full time.

The first Red Angel Pizza shop opened for business on July 4, 1974 in the small town of Payne, Ohio. The pizza and grinders became an instant hit and many more shops were created in surrounding areas. The store’s name came from the two original founders—Red and his partner Angel.

Hicksville Elementary School is located in Defiance County in Northwest Ohio in the village of Hicksville. It is a Pre-Kindergarten through 6th grade school with nearly 600 students. In partnership with family and community, the school district provides a quality education to ensure each student learns to the best of his or her ability to become a productive member of society.

The art education major at ONU is an intensive full-time teacher preparation program that enables students to earn a PreK-12 licensure as a teacher. ONU’s program is designed to prepare its candidates to be not only accomplished art educators, but also articulate advocates for the role of art in PreK-12 education. The curriculum involves partnerships with public schools and is designed so that students come to understand educational theory through personal experience in authentic teaching situations. For instance, students at Ohio Northern plan and teach a group of middle school students participating in the Saturday Morning Arts (SMArts) program. Also, ONU teacher candidates complete 12 weeks of student teaching experiences in an elementary public school and in a secondary public school.

Originally designated as the School of Fine Arts and later the College of Fine Arts, the art & design program was first established as an independent academic unit at Ohio Northern in 1878, largely as an outgrowth of course work in engineering and architectural drawing. Today, Ohio Northern offers both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with majors in advertising design, art education, graphic design and studio arts with concentrations in two-dimensional, three-dimensional and pre-art therapy. The department of A&D holds memberships in national organizations such as the National Art Education Association, College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education, AIGA: The Professional Association for Design, and the National Council on Education of Ceramic Arts. The department is recognized in the second and third editions of “Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers” as one of the best creative programs nationwide. For additional information about the department of art & design or the University’s 2013–14 Arts Exhibition Season, contact the department at 419.772.2160.

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