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As a ten-year-old whippersnapper in 70’s London, I was given three gifts by my then master 5th-grade teacher, Mr. Henri LeConte. The first was a gift that inspired my life-long love of art and art history; the second was an appreciation of the often-unanticipated benefits of committing time, when possible, to focused, purposeful craftsmanship; the third was to honor the value of my own ideals and aspirations. I still can see in my mind’s eye all 4’6’’ of me balancing on a chair as I reached up to finish off the detailing on the headdress of the 12th century Persian manuscript artist’s version of Eve standing beside Adam in an exquisite Garden of Eden scene. I loved the delicate flowers, the two jewel-like birds nestled in the gossamer branches, and the light and joy that pervaded the scene. I wanted that light to brighten our 40-desk-filled grey room, and so I traced the image, taken from the folio the Manafi’ al-Hayawan (On the Usefulness of Animals) of Ibn Bakhtishu, onto a length of heavy newsprint – as tall as I was – and affixed it to the wall of our classroom. Having taught us to reach into the vast world of art, far beyond the requisite grammar, literature, maths, geography, science, French, and history, Mr. LeConte wanted us to give visual expression to what we had learned beyond the requisites courses of the British curriculum.
Fast forward to mid March, 2016, a bleak endless-winter day, another, it seemed, in what had been a long, heavy, and deeply sad year. Waynflete Upper School advisors were using the special afternoon for course selections, service, or just as a time for community respite. As I conferred with John Thurston, my co-advisor, as to what we should do with our group, I found myself remembering the day back in London when I had aspired to be a Persian wall artist. I proposed passing on to our thirteen advisees the gifts that Mr LeConte had given me and, a real plus, beautify a public space in the Upper School. We would create seven pieces of wall art, each roughly 3’6” x 2”6”, in the Emery Student Center. The students enthusiastically signed on to the task, though were dubious as to whether or not we could finish such a project in just two hours….
I prepped the walls of the Student Center the evening before our proposed Mural Day and readied samples of famous artworks that could be projected and copied on the prepared ‘canvasses,’ then completed to a high standard in limited time. We ended the day with renditions of works of art ranging from Matisse’s “Icarus,” Picasso’s “Don Quijote,” Japanese Cherry Blossom manuscript prints, to more Matisse, and an original creation by then-sophomore, Cole Gagnon. The students quickly found themselves deeply engaged in the task, chatting to one another as they worked away. I saw ready smiles, and heard a spontaneous expression of unadulterated joy: “I am sooo happy right now,” said then-sophomore, Ava Thomas. We all agreed in that moment that we would continue our beautification and spirit-kindling art project on our next Community Service Day.
March 7, 2017. Homeroom: thirteen advisees – four new members having replaced last year’s graduated seniors. Our Project: To transpose to the Student Center walls nine additional works of art, selected by the students. Again, I prepared the “canvasses” the day before – this time on the three columns that run through the middle of the room so that the artists could do their work. Time Limit: three hours. Mission…definitely accomplished. The Student Center now is beginning to resemble a little MoMA: Matisse, Picasso, Spanish modernists, a Japanese Koi wall-hanging, Koi being a Japanese symbol of Joy, plus a remarkable hand-drawn rendition of a Guatemalan artist captured by freshman, Jocelyn Rodriguez, and a meticulously-copied version of a John Lennon portrait rendered by senior, Jesse Brooks. Cole Gagnon once again rendered with exquisite care another of his imaginative and original works of art.
As a final parting gift to his viewers, Jesse Brooks added the following Lennon quote to the striking black-and-white portrait of the iconic musician: “Reality Leaves A Lot To The Imagination.” Mr. LeConte would approve and, I believe, would be gratified that his lessons are still so powerfully relevant to a new generation of thinkers and doers. We have already begun discussing themes for next year’s project: a 18-foot, Greco-Roman-inspired frieze….
If you cannot venture down to the Emery “gallery,” please enjoy the images from this year’s ‘acquisitions’ below, or click through the gallery at the top of the page!