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Reel art

Lee Elementary students craft their way into Columbia history
Monday, July 2, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:26 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
From left, Alya Pratte, Tom Prater, Bob Bussabarger, and Nathan Bursac work on a clay mural for the new Ragtag Cinema building, which will open next spring. Designed by kids at the Lee Elementary School, it is being finished through a partnership of the MU and Stephens College art departments, Ragtag and community volunteers.

Marilyn Monroe was inches away from King Kong, and Roger Rabbit was getting chummy with Darth Vader in the art room of Lee Elementary School on Sunday.

The unlikely pairings are part of a clay mural being created for the Ragtag Cinema Cafe by Lee school students and community volunteers.

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The mural is a collection of 3-D clay images of memorable moments and people in American film history from 1900 to the present. Movie icons, such as Mickey Mouse and Alfred Hitchcock, are displayed against a backdrop of silk-screened photographs of historic Columbia theaters.

Ann Mehr, a Lee Elementary art teacher who headed the project, said the mural will be displayed on the brick exterior wall of the Ragtag when the theater moves to a larger location on Hitt Street in spring 2008.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the kids’ work featured at a creative venue like the Ragtag,” Mehr said.

“This mural draws on the strength of our community partnerships. Lee school artists can make a lasting contribution together with community input.”

David Wilson, a member of the Ragtag board of directors, said having the community involved in the new Ragtag building is important.

“In conceiving this building we knew we wanted to work with a lot of local artists,” he said. “(The mural) helps ground the new building into the history of Columbia.”

Fifth-grade students, with the help of local film experts and professional artists, researched old movies and the history of films in Columbia to create the 3-by-12-foot mural.

MU graduate students Nathan Bursac and Shannon Blakey lent their education in art to help the students create the mural. Bursac said they had about an hour each week for two months to work on the mural with the students.

“The hardest part was getting them to understand the differences between 3-D images and flat images,” he said. “It was something new, and being a part of something this big was exciting for them.”

Mehr said creating the mural started with each student choosing an object or character to re-create.

Next, the students drew sketches of their images and used the sketches to mold and sculpt their objects into 3-D clay figures. The students then painted the images, using black and white to depict images from older films and color for more recent movie history.

Community volunteers are touching up the students’ work and getting the mural ready for display.

“It’s a really wonderful project,” Mehr said. “It shows that the public schools do high-level thinking through the arts.”

Students at Lee school have contributed to a number of public art works in Columbia, including a clay mural at the Columbia Public Library. Bursac said the main goal is to give the students an education about art and foster community involvement.

“(The students) will be able to come back 10 to 15 years from now and say they were a part of this and it is still important,” he said. “Even if they never become professional artists, they can appreciate the work they did.”


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