PIEDMONT -- Eating lunch will be a more educational this fall at Beach Elementary School.

A wall along a portion of the schoolyard where students spend their lunch time has been converted into 30-foot-long mural depicting the plants and animals of Piedmont and surrounding East Bay areas.

It's been a labor of love for a dedicated group, headed by parents Pear Michaels and Heather Chan.

Made of high-fired ceramic tiles attached to stucco, the mural contains artful representations of the American River otter, mallard and wood ducks, western pond turtles, a raccoon and a black tailed deer.

Images of the local fauna play a key role in educational value of the art work, Michaels said.

"It was important that it was something that reflected the local environment," Michaels said.

The mural is part of a series of improvements to the school paid for with bond money from the Piedmont Unified School District.

The school's parents donated generously to pay for other improvements, including schoolyard seating, umbrellas for outdoor tables, seats for the school's auditorium, landscaping and the mural, which cost approximately $10,000.

The total amount raised approached $250,000 -- four times the amount the parents had anticipated. The project was so popular that the wall grew in size and adjustments had to be made based on donor requests.


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"We wanted something interactive in a way so the donors would decide what the mural would look like," Michaels said. That's why we have this many fish, this many herons, and this many birds in the trees because that is was people opted for."

Michaels organized the mural's design and tile artist Diane Holycross made the tiles in her upstate New York studio.

Michaels and Chan assembled the tiles in the school auditorium but had to stop work when special events were held there. Chan even stored the materials in her own garage briefly to keep the artwork together.

As it came time to attach the tiles to the wall, Michaels and Chan got some help from other parents. A professional plasterer was brought in to fill in the blank portions of the wall.

Michaels said the project would not have been successful without the help of third-grade teacher Tracy Broback, who worked on a similar mosaic elsewhere at the school and offered plenty of valuable advice.

Each of the tiles bears a donor name or commemorates the school in some way.

A stern looking raccoon is dedicated to Beach's teachers because the animal is "tenacious," Michaels joked.

There's even a real sycamore leaf collected by a parent along Oakland Avenue to add to the mural's authenticity. The leaf was shipped back to the artist, Holycross, in a plastic bag and great care was taken to preserve it before it was encased within a tile.

FYI
The mural will be dedicated to parents and donors from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday before orientation for new Beach Elementary School students and parents at the school, 100 Lake Ave. New Beach Principal Michael Corritone will be on hand for the event.