Students work with artist to create Missouri-themed mural

Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 3:41 p.m. CST; updated 10:23 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 13, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Public Library unveiled a new mural to a crowd of parents, library workers and Daniel Boone Regional Library Foundation members on Thursday. The mural was created by more than a dozen fifth-graders from Grant Elementary School in collaboration with Heinrich Leonhard.

Leonhard, a local artist, made the center of the mural with the tiles surrounding it depicting parts of Missouri's history, geography and cultural identity. He has worked with Grant on four other murals. This project started last year, when the students were in fourth grade.

The Regional Library Foundation funded the project along with Grant's PTA and donations from parents, said Melissa Carr, Daniel Boone Regional Library director. All art in the regional library system is funded through private donations. 

"This is a great piece of public art," she said.

All three of Leonhard's children attended Grant. Now he spends as much time as needed, sometimes several school years, taking the students through each step of the creative process. The students start by imagining their tile. They draw it, then sculpt it out of clay. If it doesn't get blown up in the kiln, dropped or lost along the way, the students finish the tile by painting it. For this mural, only Leonhard's tiles suffered casualties.

"George Washington Carver blew up on me," he said. "I don't remember if it was Lewis or Clark that got a crack in them."

All but about eight of the tiles were created by the students. The rest were done by Leonhard and some helpers, including Stephanie Hanson, a Columbia Public Library information technology worker who sculpted a Harry S. Truman tile.

"It was a lot of fun, a great experience," Hanson said.

After hearing about the project in a staff meeting, Hanson asked to help out. Hanson studied art at Truman State University, but she said she's "yet to become an art educator." She spent a couple of days helping the students sculpt and paint tiles in the classroom but said it was nothing compared to the time Leonhard spent on the project.

"He's very patient with the kids," she said.

Leonhard is still not done with the project because he plans to grout the mural. For all his efforts, he makes sure to give credit where it's due.

"The kids are the artists, and I'm just one of them," he said.

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