The dingy, gray cement wall along the train embankment at OPRF High School’s South Field near Lake Street is much more colorful these days.
The mural mosaic, created and installed by high school students in Oak Park, River Forest and Maywood, concluded this summer. The Off-the-Wall summer arts employment project, sponsored by the Oak Park Area Arts Council, began in 2005 with students working on the wall the last four summers.
Some students have participated from the very beginning while others joined the project along the way. In all, 14 students from Oak Park and River Forest High School, Trinity High School and Proviso East High School participated this summer. The students were hired as paid apprentices by the council, spending three weeks working with professional artists in a studio and three weeks working on the wall.
Large glass and tile images featuring birds, flowing waters and human figures now stretch nearly the entire length of the Union Pacific railroad embankment.
“We wanted the entire wall to be a work of art,” said Camille Wilson White, executive director of the arts council.
Students came up with their own ideas for the designs, noted Carolyn Elaine, one of two professional artists who worked with apprentices.
Elaine, and fellow artist Sonata Kazimieraitiene, introduced them to brickolage, a form of art using broken, mirrored tile. The students cut and shaped the tiles, and came up with a theme for the mural involving movement and “the wonders of motion.”
“We didn’t want to impose themes and images on the students. We pretty much guided them along the way,” said Elaine, who works mainly in broken tile mosaics and clay.
From 10 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, the students worked four days a week on the mural. They chose to start the mural in the center of the embankment with a large red-tiled pulse line image, located right under the South Field scoreboard. They spent the next three summers adding images on either side. The project wrapped up with a ceremony at the wall on July 19.
“In the beginning, you could see that something was going on there,” Elaine recalled. “This last year, the work the students did really brought it out. It’s really enticing because from a distance you can see the image, but once you get up close you can see each individual one.”