Clad in black fabric, the mural dominates the entry hallway of Mountain View Elementary School.
For weeks, students added their tiled creations to the larger picture and anticipate the unveiling later this month.
But Thomas and Celia Leaf already know what it looks like – and they say it’s spectacular.
“It’s going to be special,” Celia, 9, said.
The siblings got the privilege of seeing the mural early because their mom helped put it together.
“My mom’s been here all weekend grouting it,” Thomas, 12, said. “It’s going to be presented on the 22nd.”
Artist Holly Leaf guided the students through creation of their individual tiles and hosted glazing parties for teachers and staff to prepare the tiles for firing in her two home kilns.
The tiles were adhered to plywood backing, installed by school district staff, and grouted into place in time for the unveiling next week.
Principal Darren Brick said the mural project has been circulating for awhile. The decision to go ahead was made during a family gathering among a handful of Mountain View families at Westwood Lake park last summer.
“We thought, how ‘bout we just try and make it work this year,” he said.
Teachers, staff, parents and students had input throughout the project, which was paid for by the Home and School Association, the parent advisory group for Mountain View.
The students sketched out their designs on paper before transferring to the tile. After the first firing of the 500 tiles, teachers and parents gathered at the Leaf’s house to apply the Iceberg glaze before the final firing.
Hundreds of hours of volunteer time from the Leaf family – Holly’s husband, Scott, is a ceramics teacher at Vancouver Island University – and dozens of hours from teachers, staff and parents contributed to the mural.
“It really was a community effort,” Brick said.
The mural’s theme is about Chester, a beloved tree in the school’s playground. The tree’s roots intertwine with nature just as the school’s roots intertwine with the community.
“It’s the major central tree in the playground,” Brick said. “It’s another symbol for our school.”
Tying into the students’ studies, they were asked to consider the creatures which live around Chester.
Celia was studying fish, so she chose a fully grown salmon, which she arranged diagonally on her tile.
“It had a mouth, it had fins,” she said. “Some people in my class did the stages of salmon.”
Thomas chose spiders. The eight legs curve out, covering the tile.
“It filled the whole tile,” he said. “It was mostly filled with designs.”
The two students have a penchant for drawing. Thomas once drew more than 100 pictures of his favourite dinosaurs, while Celia draws self-portraits or pictures of her family.
It’s the third mural Holly Leaf helped create in Nanaimo school district, with her work on display at Forest Park and Frank Ney elementary schools.
Like those schools, the Mountain View mural will be a legacy for the students.
“When I come in, I’ll look for my tile,” Thomas said.