Art Town: Twenty years of kids’ art on the wall
What is 6 feet tall, 44 feet long and created by 1,400 middle school students? It’s the Kids’ Wall at the Longshore pool — arguably the largest piece of public art in Fairfield County.
Unveiled on May 28, 2000, it was conceived and produced by artists Katherine Ross and Miggs Burroughs.
Artist and teacher Ross was concerned that there was very little, if anything, in town to engage middle schoolers at the time, so the idea of a collaborative and very public art project seemed a great way to celebrate their talent and diversity.
She enlisted Burroughs to help with coordinating the project, obtaining approvals from more than a dozen town boards and commissions, and raising the estimated $18,000 to make it happen. The total included donations from the Westport Young Woman’s League, Stew Leonard’s, Martha Stewart and Newman’s Own, among others.
Nothing on this scale had ever been done before, so the first challenge was to find a suitable location. Several sites were considered, including at the Levitt Pavilion and inside the lower level of the library, where the River of Names ended up.
Then-First Selectman Diane Farrell introduced Ross and Burroughs to Mark Smith and Stuart McCarthy from the Parks and Recreation Department, who welcomed the Kids’ Wall as a replacement for the unsightly fence at the Longshore pool which hid the filtration equipment.
Once the theme was established, the next challenge was to guarantee that the creativity of every fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grader would be integrated into the wall in a real and meaningful way. With the cooperation of the Westport schools, each student was asked to draw what “life above and below the Sound” looked like to them.
After reviewing all 1,400 drawings, Ross saw that they fell into several distinct categories such as ducks, deep sea divers, sharks, jellyfish, treasure chests, octopi and sea serpents. She then proceeded to sketch out the entire mural incorporating these elements in the style of the kids who had drawn them.
The next step was finding a way for each student to make a hands-on contribution. The mural was divided into 64 equal panels measuring 18-by-33 inches. Over the course of two months, Ross brought a plain “Wonder Board” panel into each of the 64 art classes, along with the sketch for that specific panel, grout, and a bucket of mosaic tiles in various shapes, colors and textures.
The students in each and every class got to place tiles onto the panels. Some created “secret” messages with alphabet beads, while others embedded coins, trinkets and even a tooth that fell out during class.
Once all panels were completed, they were installed on a hurricane-proof fence at the pool, built by Ross’ husband Cliff, and unveiled with great fanfare to the public and town officials on May 28, 2000.
The new Westport Library will be displaying an exhibit about the Kids’ Wall from Nov. 21 through March 11. Search “The Kids Wall, Westport, CT” on YouTube for a 30-minute documentary on the making of the mural.
Miggs Burroughs is a lifelong Westport resident and full-time graphic artist since 1972. He is co-founder of The Artists Collective of Westport and a member of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee among other accomplishments.
Ann Chernow has been a Westport resident since 1968. Her artwork has been exhibited locally and worldwide. Chernow is a member of the Westport Arts Center, the Westport Museum Committee and other arts organizations.