The first time a visitor to Community Park School (CP) on Witherspoon Street sees the new mural there, it might take some time to find the six words embedded among the dynamic arrangement of teal, turquoise, gold, and orange colored tile that surrounds the soft earth-toned palette of pinks and creams that make up the mural’s central tree image. But there they are: Hope, Faith, Love, Dream, Peace, and Smile.
The carefully chosen words add a second dimension to the understanding of the mural’s name, which was voted on by the entire student body of 305 students. Besides presenting an opportunity to ponder six important concepts, the mural presents a more mundane reason for including the word “reflection” in its title.
Among the hundreds of pieces of ceramic tile, granite, marble, and glass are a quantity of mirrors that engage light from windows along the wall on the opposite side of the corridor where the mural is situated. Every child in the school will pass through this corridor and in front of the new mural at some point during their school day.
The mural is the brainchild of the school’s art teacher Lara Darpino and is primarily the work of the school’s fifth graders, each of whom made a clay tile in the shape of a heart or a star, that was fired on site in the kiln the school acquired just last year. “Together with the tiles we made, the mural was made from donated pieces, we didn’t have to buy anything,” said Ms. Darpino, who has been teaching art to Community Park students since January 2012. Before that she was at John Witherspoon Middle School and the middle school in Lawrenceville teaching art to seventh and eighth graders. Having taught for a year at CP from 2009 to 2010, she jumped at the chance to come back when an opening presented itself.
Each student’s crafted tile was embedded into the mural, which took shape over many months during the course of the 2013-2014 school year. “We started around October,” said Ms. Darpino “and finished in time for the annual spring art show that involves the entire school.”
The inspiration came from a class on Gustav Klimt’s “Tree of Life,” which Ms. Darpino presented to the third grade. “It developed from there and took shape as art projects do over time,” said the art teacher. “It’s important to teach art history along with art skills.”
Educated at Rutgers and Kean University, the art teacher has a masters in art education. Her artwork has been exhibited at Chamber’s Walk in Lawrenceville, Terhune Orchards, Gallery 125 in Trenton, and Syracuse University.
Her educational philosophy is to engage student learning at all times by providing and encouraging creative expression in the arts and nurturing the imagination to endorse genuine conceptual thought.
When it came to choosing a name for the mural and its brightly colored swirling image that evokes both a tree and a force of nature, there were only two contenders, “The CP Tree” and “The Reflection Tree.” The latter was the clear winner.
Currently Ms. Darpino’s second graders are working on creative portraits of Salvador Dali. Who knows what that might lead to?