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School's walls come to life with work of muralist

Posted: Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Where once stood a plain paneled wall separating the cafeteria and gymnasium of River Ridge Elementary School, muralist Cole Phail has opened two windows on a world of imagination.

The mural he painted, which spans the length of the cafeteria, gives an illusion of depth where there is none. The mural portrays many of the themes of the school: reading, math, art, music and physical education.

"I've been wanting to do this collage idea for a long time and do the exaggerated proportions and the school themes," said Phail, 34, who has painted murals part-time since high school.

To trick the eye into believing there is depth beyond the wall, Phail painted architectural elements that resemble the interior of castle walls.

Through the windows are books for reading, balls for sports, a globe to represent geography, paintbrushes and musical instruments for the arts and state symbols such as the brown thrasher, the state bird; and the live oak, the state tree.

The mural, which fades from day into a starry night with a river running through both windows, also includes two bulldogs, the school's mascot, and more elementary elements such as numbers, letters, animals and school supplies for the younger pupils to appreciate, Phail said.

"I like the structural architecture of the mural and then integrating the crazy fantasy of the collage," he said.

School Principal Sandra Black said Southern Mullins, a fourth-grader, told her mother the walls of the school were plain and white compared with other schools she had attended. Southern's mother, Kim Mullins, approached Black about the possibility of putting some kind of art on the walls of the school, the principal said.

From there, Black said, she contacted Phail, who had painted a mural in the cafeteria of her previous school, Westmont Elementary.

Phail, who also runs a video production company, said it took him a day to design the main mural.

He and his helpers have been working part time in the school since the beginning of winter classes.

He decided a few years ago to start painting murals while school was in session to allow the children a chance to see the artistic process.

"It's gratifying when they come by and are complimentary, or have input here and there," Phail said. "They notice each day when something has changed."

In addition to the cafeteria mural, Phail and his team are painting six smaller murals outside the music and art rooms and each wing of the school.

Without Mullins' patronage, Black said, the school would not have been able to afford such an elaborate art installation.

"(The mural) adds a lot of interest to our cafeteria," Black said.

"As he was painting, the children got to see an artist in action, which is a real-life experience. It just sort of encompasses our whole school day right on the wall."


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