Healthy living in paint

Riverside School fourth-grader Gabrielle Sweeney paints a mural at the school on Tuesday.

DANVERS — Fourth-graders at the Riverside Elementary School donned smocks and rolled up their sleeves on Tuesday to paint two floor-to-ceiling murals that, when complete, will be installed on both sides of the school's front entrance.

With depictions of everything from the rail trail to the Endicott pear tree, the murals, created with the help of an artist-in-residence, focus on healthy living in Danvers.

"It's amazing," said teacher Sarah Fitzgerald on Tuesday as she watched her class at work, accompanying the students on their art session. "The kids love it. They look forward to coming down each week to participate." 

The murals are being painted onto sturdy Dibond aluminum composite panels set up along the walls of the art room where Amy Groberio and Laura Marotta teach.

The project is being overseen by professional muralist David Fichter of Cambridge in a project sponsored by the DanversCares community coalition.

The mural explores themes of how students' "school, neighborhood and community helps keep them healthy," said DanversCares program director Peg Sallade.

Funding came from a $5,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the John Thomas Schroeder Foundation, a donor fund of the Essex County Community Foundation.

The mural depicts landmarks around Danversport, including the famed Endicott pear tree — the oldest living cultivated fruit-bearing tree in the United States. The Danvers Rail Trail runs through one of the murals, and another shows the launch of a rocket — the Riverside School is known as the "home of the Rockets."

Fichter, who has been creating large-scale murals and mosaics for more than 30 years, helped Danvers students create two murals at the Smith Elementary School in recent years. He has also worked with students at the Winthrop Elementary School in Ipswich.

Fichter said he used pencil drawings from students based on the theme of healthy living to create a collage. He then used an overhead projector to cast the drawings onto the aluminum panels and traced the drawings with a marker. Students have been painting the mural.

Students experience the satisfaction of seeing the mural as it's created, from coming up with the concept to painting the actual designs, explained Fichter. They also like that the work has a sense of permanency.

"It's a very complex process," he said, "They are starting with a concept of ideas and they wind up with a finished mural." 

The students learn about the concepts of healthy living depicted in the mural and connect with other students' work and ideas.

"I like it," said Avery Maynard, a fourth-grader who spent Tuesday morning painting a blue bird.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

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