The Art Club at Cross Middle School has spent the past two years planning and building a handmade mosaic mural, and last week they – including the 2011 graduates who returned this summer to pitch in – got to see all their hard work pay off.

In 2009, during Danielle Mulleneaux’s first year as a teacher, a discussion began in her classroom about how the school campus lacked art of any significance.

“I felt that really had to change soon,” Mulleneaux said. “I think art around the school makes all the difference, and the atmosphere makes it more friendly and creative.”

The kids picked up on their teacher’s thoughts and set out to make a 12-foot mural (which after numerous revisions now stands close to 20 feet) that includes a quote found on one of Mulleneaux’s classroom walls: “The creation of a thousand forests rests in one acorn.”

More than 2,000 handmade tiles and personalized leaves along with another few thousand purchased pieces make up the mural of a giant oak tree with a red heart at its center and the quote woven throughout the leaves. It resides on the outside of the art classroom’s wall and faces toward the front entrance to the school.

“We chose this wall because it is the largest one and can be seen from the front of the school and from the parking lot as parents drop their kids off,” she said. “Also, it is the first place the students enter into the school.

“It’s a nice warm way to welcome everybody.”

Developing the idea was the easy part. Everything from there on out became a little more difficult.

The club’s initial concepts were visualized as sketches and Photoshop renderings. During year two, the club’s 60 members made it their mission to complete the mural.

Kio Myers is a two-year veteran of the project.

“Last year we didn’t do much about it, we just decided that, ‘hey, we want to do a mural some time and it would be really cool,’” Myers said. “So we thought maybe a tree would be cool.”

The project had to be approved by both the principal and the Amphitheater School Board. To achieve this, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade artists had to appear before the board with a plan of how they would raise money for the mural. During and after the six-month approval process, the students raised money by selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts before school to students and parents. Thanks to that one project, the kids were able to raise about $1,800.

Club members also sold personalized leaves that would be incorporated into the mural. The cost was $5 for students and $3 for staff and faculty. With that, the club raised another $800.

With some money raised and more than $1,000 donated, club members started to design the template for how big the mural itself would be along with the size for each piece incorporated in the mosaic.

“We took big pieces of butcher paper, and we would trace out the shapes of what we wanted them to be and lay them out into the sections where we wanted them to be,” Myers said. “But we had to do a ton of those because they didn’t turn out so well.”

Mulleneaux’s teaching style allows the kids to learn from their mistakes. They made their share of errors but came together and worked as a cohesive unit within weeks.

“The kids, when you give them enough credit and power, they’ll do great things,” Mulleneaux said. “It’s all about respect. It is huge for me in my room and in the art club, respecting them and respecting their creative minds.”

The kids didn’t give up when the fifth, sixth or even seventh revision came through. Mulleneaux opened her classroom to club members begging to work on the mural in some fashion after school on Tuesdays and Fridays.

During school when a student, like Myers, would finish their in-class assignment, they would ask Mulleneaux if they could work on the mural.

“Their dedication is amazing,” she added.

A handful of students spent last week at the school from 5 a.m. to about 10 a.m. installing the tiles. Most of them graduated from Cross Middle School at the end of the 2010-2011 school year but are still heavily involved with ensuring that their art project is completed.

The mural itself is broken into dozens of puzzle piece-like sections that are installed individually. To help from the ground level, April Lewis, 14, looked at pictures of the mural as it laid completed on the art room floor, and created a system that would simplify the installation process.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Lewis said. “When the sun reflects on it, it is just so pretty, and I never would have thought it would be this big.”

Myers echoed her club mate’s sentiments.

“I’ve never really done a mosaic before, so I imagined it to be more like a mural,” Myers said. “But it is so cool how it shines in the light.”

The mosaic mural is a permanent installment at the school and will be seen for years to come, which is something Mulleneaux knows about.

When the teacher was a student at Canyon del Oro High School, she created a black and white watercolor poster of the first group of students within the district sitting on a cart.

“ (District Superintendent) Dr. Balentine was so taken with it that she turned it into a poster and now it’s in every school,” Mulleneaux said. “I tell the kids that it is really cool that I walk into the school and see my artwork from when I was a student.”

And now she is giving her students the opportunity to do the same.

“They are leaving their footsteps when they leave here.”



What: Mosaic mural unveiling

When: Wednesday, July 6, noon

Where: Cross Middle School, 1000 W. Chapala Drive

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