With the campus cleared out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, San Marino High School Principal Jason Kurtenbach and art teacher Michelle Pauline thought they would take advantage of the extra room brought on by the lack of students. So at the end of 2020, they collaborated on an ambitious project.
“Jason said that he wanted a mural painted in his office,” said Pauline, who also heads up the school’s National Art Honor Society, or NAHS. She is also the chair of VAPA — the visual and performing arts.
“He wanted it to represent the population the community and the culture of the students,” she said.
So Pauline enlisted a group of seven students and the octet set out to brighten up Kurtenbach’s environment. Adhering to social distancing and mask requirements, the artists spent a week this past July sketching and painting, transforming the south wall of Kurtenbach’s office into a pastel pastoral representing the life of a Titan and paying homage to what is known around the SMUSD as “The Four A’s” — academics, arts, activities and athletics. The artists, comprising the NAHS cabinet at the school, designed, outlined then painted the approximately 8-foot by 8-foot wall space.
“I am very pleased with the result,” said Pauline, “and I am also amazed that they could accomplish that in just one week.”
Kurtenbach was looking for a way to liven up what he called his “spartan” surroundings.
“I told them I wanted something that would say what it means to be a student at San Marino High School,” said Kurtenbach. “I am amazed that they came up with something so poignant in such a short period of time. It says that the community has been helping us to get out into the world — like this is a handoff. That is what the kids came up with.”
Kurtenbach said that the mural has been so well-received, they are going to place another installation on the wall in the counseling office which coincides with the theme for the 2021-22 school year: “Back in Blue.”
“We are just trying to do whatever we can to pull in our students’ creativity and passion,” Kurtenbach said. “And once again, they rose to the occasion. As they always do.”
There might be even more artwork on the way, according to Christian Liao, a senior at SMHS and NAHS cabinet member.
“We plan on creating a large mural outside of the art room and in the concrete hallway between the entrance to the Neher Auditorium, closest to the art room, and entrance to the Webb Theatre,” said Liao. “We want to represent all of the VAPA programs.”
Pauline said she hopes to kick off the project in the spring and has plans for a possible encore of the popular “Arts Rock!” events to feature the launch.
“I would like this to be the work of the students and see how they would like to execute it,” Pauline said.
She also hopes to involve the community in the work. Knowing its artistic exploits at Grad Night, it’s a safe bet that a quality product will emerge.