OPRF Art teacher Tracy Van Dienen celebrated the 150th anniversary of OPRF alongside artist Carolyn Elaine and students from the Off the Wall summer program at the mosaic mural dedication. | Amaris E. Rodriguez

Reliable, respectful, responsible are the three core values proudly displayed on the colorful mosaic mural Oak Park and River Forest High School dedicated on Monday in a special ribbon cutting event. 

Held at the high school, faculty, staff and students gathered on Monday evening to celebrate the “Our Time to Grow” mural, which was commissioned to commemorate the school’s sesquicentennial anniversary. 

In attendance to celebrate the special moment, Superintendent Greg Johnson praised the mural, which he called beautiful. He added that part of the beauty behind it was the partnership between the school and community organizations that worked together to make the mosaic mural possible. 

Largely funded by the Huskie Booster Club, which donated $50,000 toward the legacy item, the remaining expenses, which were estimated to be a little more than $90,000, were covered by the Oak Park Area Arts Council. 

The sesquicentennial mural was commissioned by OPRF art teacher and mosaic artist Tracy Van Duinen in partnership with local artist Carolyn Elaine and the Oak Park Area Arts Council’s Off the Wall program. The latter hires OPRF students for the summer to help design and construct murals around Oak Park. This summer’s project was the OPRF mural. 

To fully understand the significance of the mural, one should read it left to right, said Johnson. Starting off on the right side, a giant tree representing the start and ending of the school year is showcased with leaves blowing in the wind. Those leaves lead into a husky’s face, the mascot of the high school and a point of pride for the athletics department. The mural also includes the year the school was founded, 1873, leaves that read “reliable,” “respectful,” and “responsible,” and, over the entrance to the south hall, the school’s motto “those things that are best” displayed in ancient Greek.

Van Duinen, who worked alongside 14 students and recent OPRF graduates in the OPRF auto shop, said it was a great feeling to be on the other side of the project and to finally get to see the whole thing come together. 

“It was a lot of work, but we had a really great team to get it all done so I wasn’t worried,” Van Duinen said. “It’s nice to be on this side of projects like these and to be here celebrating and having the community enjoy it.” 

The project also provided Van Duinen a “full-circle” experience — the beloved art teacher plans to retire in the next three years. 

“For a community-based artist like me, I always put a piece up in the community and then walk away,” Van Duinen said. “Here, I am around it every day with the kids that I did it with so that is a special feeling. It is a new experience for me.” 

Because both began their art careers around the same time and have been longtime friends, working alongside Elaine was also a meaningful experience, Van Duinen said. 

Former OPRF student Hasani Cannon, 23, also had a hand in the mural. The 2018 graduate has been working with Off the Wall since he was a sophomore at the high school. 

“It was definitely surreal, coming back here every day and seeing how the school has literally changed right in front of my eyes,” Cannon said, adding that working with current OPRF students and his former art teacher was his full-circle moment. 

OPRF parent and local art teacher at Brooks Middle School, Kristi Murray, whose son helped with the mural, said she was really excited to be able to see the mural up close. 

“I love that Oak Park Area Arts Council gives students the opportunity to be a working artist,” Murray said, adding that being able to work on the mural solidified her son’s desire to pursue a career in the arts.

According to Van Duinen, the whole mosaic mural took about three and a half weeks to install.

The mural can be seen by the high school entrance off of East Avenue as well as by driving down Linden Avenue.

Join the discussion on social media!