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Pittsfield community collaborates on ‘journey map’ installation at school

Last modified: 6/12/2015 1:14:09 PM
The product of four months’ work, a new, permanent art fixture was unveiled in one of Pittsfield Middle High School’s prominent hallways yesterday.

Students, parents, staff and community members spent about 1,000 hours fashioning hundreds of clay tiles for the 32-foot-long mural. Some are small and represent individuals or philosophies at the school. Others are large, blue-green and wavy, running throughout the center and paying homage to the Suncook River on which the town was founded.

In all, they represent a transformation at the school. Since 2008, when the last of the nearby towns that were once part of SAU 51 seceded to form their own administrative units, Pittsfield has been on a new path toward student-centered learning.

The words and ideas displayed on the outer tiles – “personalize,” “hands on,” “transformative” – show how the school is gearing itself in a way that ensures its students are making the most of their time and preparing for the future. These are the concepts that were derived way back when the school invited everyone from the community in on Saturday mornings to determine the way forward, said Superintendent John Freeman. The river shows that the process will continue to go on, and that change is a constant in life.

“Many times I’ve seen schools where students are not at all at the center, and in fact schools really seem to be organized more for the adults and the convenience of adults than for the benefit of students,” Freeman said. “We’ve moved away from that – that old model – and bring students to the center of everything we do.”

Art teacher Bill Mitchell said the planning phase of the project, described as a “journey map,” began in October. He brought in Teresa Taylor, a potter with more than 40 years of experience, including other public installations, and owner of Salty Dog Pottery in Barnstead.

Taylor ordered 1,500 pounds of clay and dozens of boxes of glaze in January. She’s been firing her kiln off and on at about 1,900 degrees pretty much ever since.

Each tile gets rolled out to a precise size, is physically shaped and designed, gets put in the kiln for more than 12 hours, cools for about two days and is then ready to be glazed, Taylor said.

Most of the creative parts of the process, the designing and glazing, were done by students who chose to delve into pottery during a period on Wednesdays when they have some choice in their schedules. For some, such as Ula Akbarova, the project began to occupy all their free time.

Akbarova, who is a foreign exchange student from Azerbaijan, said she made personal tiles for her fellow foreign exchange students and painted the glaze on about 40 tiles in all. The mural is composed of 108 10-inch-by-10-inch tiles and 216 5-inch-by-5-inch tiles.

“Every tile is a new story, and it’s the story of a student, which means a lot,” Akbarova said. “And it’s going to be on the wall forever.”

Mitchell said the project turned out exactly how he’d hoped.

“For this experience, people came together. They really care about their school. It’s like the heart of the town, and I didn’t expect so much enthusiasm for an art project,” he said.

Students throughout the school were showing off their work for Exhibition Night yesterday, but a crowd gathered in the hallway to see the paper cover torn off the mural. Taylor thanked the community for the opportunity to lead the work on what became a shared project.

“I’ve always believed this is a collaborative project in creativity where we used our hands to visually illustrate the journey that your community and your school are on and the way that you changed the way students learn, experience and grow,” she said. “This monumental tile installation involves so many makers who produced with their hearts and their hands a permanent lasting history in tile, texture, relief and color.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)


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