SYDNEY MINES, NS — Cape Breton’s unique history, environmental heritage and even how others see us from afar all inspired a mural project by students at Memorial High.
Liam Ross, a Halifax-based artist who once attended the school, guided the process with two Grade 11 English classes at the school. The two murals created feature individual contributions from each student and both were due to be unveiled on Monday.
“I’m not the only one coming here and imposing the job,” said Ross, who was born in Australia before moving to Cape Breton.
“I had a conversation; we explored inks and pigments together and i got to know them.
One mural is inspired by the cleanup of Sydney’s Tar Ponds, while the other looks at the island’s natural carbon cycle.
The Tar Ponds quilt combines a mixture of dandelions and PCP molecules and alludes to the cycle used to remediate the site, once known as the most toxic in Canada, into a vibrant community park.
“A lot of times the first sign it’s working is dandelions growing,” Ross said. “They form symbiotic relationships with these (fungi) and bacteria and they thrive in the polluted soil as it heals.”
The carbon cycle quilt format follows a line of trees with roots below forming a wave of signs, like an eternal rhythm, he said.
“In the air, oxygen, O2 molecules and carbon dioxide in the soil are sequestered.”
Ross, 25, came to Memorial with a template he created for students to follow and throughout the week encouraged them to generate photographs, ink works and free-form drawings to add. to the creative process.
Among Jack Brown’s contributions was a self-portrait with a rather significant mullet hairstyle.
“I used to have a pretty decent one, but now I’m just going to cut it down,” the student said.
Brown has no artistic background, but remembers drawing a lot when he was younger and enjoying revisiting that skill.
“I used to have my own art book and just draw. I don’t do that anymore. I just have fun with it now.
He enjoys the creative process and looks forward to seeing the murals displayed at his school and leaving a positive legacy to remember.
Lisa Gillis, an Academic English 11 teacher at Memorial, welcomed the opportunity to work with Ross when he approached the school with the idea of working with a language-based classroom.
Through this, she said the students discovered what Cape Breton means to them. It was particularly interesting to hear the international students in the class talk about their perception of the island compared to their home country, she added.
In the weeks to come, the two classes will develop many reflections and writings on the project from the creation of the murals.
“A lot of our students didn’t know much about Cape Breton history, even Cape Breton-born students,” she said. “It raised a lot of questions that we kind of worked through and also went through the historical context of where we come from as an island.”
Paper marbling techniques also learned during the week will be used to create poetry at a later date.
“It’s just another way to incorporate a little more art into the language-based course,” Gillis said.
Although Ross relied heavily on student input, the murals were also influenced by outside factors, including Cape Breton graphic designer Kate Beaton and her recent novel “Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands,” which discusses of his daily life at work in the west.
“The first chapter is, if you’re a Cape Bretoner, it kind of smacks you in the face,” Ross said. “She just explains what it’s like to be a person who lives here.”
“It’s just another way to incorporate a little more art into the language-based course.” —Lisa Gillis
Every aspect of the murals created will be digitally pieced together, then printed and pasted onto a large school wall.
“I wanted to do something that could be a mural, something that would be part of the school portrait,” Ross said.
“Students go there every day; maybe they think about it, maybe not. But it’s something that has the potential to be active and to be something that people, they take the idea with them and they do something with it, and they participate in the creative process.
The murals will also serve as quilt designs if community members wish to use them in that form.