The B.F. Day Mural Continues

by Kirby Lindsay, posted 7 June 2013


The retaining wall of B.F. Day Elementary School, on N 39th St, awaits another panel of the tile mural Photo by K. Lindsay, May '13

This June, the tile mural on a retaining wall at B.F. Day Elementary School will add another panel – thanks to art teacher Tamara Nelson, and the creativity of the graduating 5th grade class!  Over a week, Nelson will be personally grouting and cementing mosaics created by the students onto the wall, adding a border and (she hopes,) completing another section of the mural that began in 1995 by June 14th, 2013.

Anyone with grouting/cementing skills is invited to help.  Nelson would love to have assistance.  The school could also benefit from donations of stone and/or glass tiles for next year.  Nelson plans to return next year, and add another panel.  “I’m not going anywhere,” she said.


Nelson teaches art full time, working with all the grades.  She’s made coasters with the kindergarten students, and had second graders interpret guitars inspired by the works of Van Gogh.

B.F. Day School Art Teacher Tamara Nelson sorting through a collection of donated and left-over tiles for the latest installment of the tile mural. Photo by K. Lindsay, May '13

This spring she also got ambitious with a sculpture project.  “Normally I don’t combine class levels like that,” she said about having the students of 3rd – 5th graders study the works of Terry Turrell.  Using found or recycled materials, like Turrell, students built sculptures inspired by his.  As uncle to a couple of B.F. Day students, Turrell also came and spoke to one of the classes about his art and letting the students handle pieces.

When building their own sculptures, students worked with papier-mâché, tempera paint, tape, tile or cardboard.  They had to give their own interpretation of the assignment, and select their own subject.  Like the assignments with the guitars, the coasters and beetles (where the kindergarten class learned about symmetry,) the results vary greatly as some student ‘artists’ go abstract, others get exacting, and a few give haphazard results.

Interactive Diversity

The same variety will be seen in the mosaics the students create for the public mural.  “I am happier if kids like what they are doing,” Nelson explained.  She wants the art – particularly as part of a permanent installation – to reflect student personalities.  Nelson hopes they think back over their time at B.F. Day, and create a mosaic that expresses the good memories they carry of their school.

The panel of the B.F. Day Tile Mural created in 2012 by Tamara Nelson's students Photo by K. Lindsay

Last year’s 5th graders created ‘radial balance art,’ Nelson explained, inspired by 12th century Iranian creations.  “You can work anything into the mosaic,” she said of this assignment, “including mosaics.”

This year the assignment is similar, and different.  “I decided we are going to do circular mosaics,” she said.  Her own is a radial balanced design, that divides the circle into quadrants, but she encouraged the children to develop their own idea.  In the first week of June, the 50 students still were creating their mosaics, although she’d heard talk about doing a handprint, a word, or a tree.  “I told them this is going to be on the wall infinitely,” she reported, “that this will be there for their lifetime.”

That is the core of this project – the ultimate permanence of the collaboration.  Since 1995, graduating students at B.F. Day have created a tile (most years,) to add to the mural which stands on display day in and day out.  It is to be hoped that the ‘children’ will return to see their contribution, and their impact, and show their children and, someday, their grandchildren.

The B.F. Day Elementary School Tile Mural, begun in 1995, will have another panel added to it in June 2013. Photo by K. Lindsay, Jan '10

For the latest panel of the Tile Mural, Nelson dug through her collection of donated and left-over tiles for the colorful pieces, knowing they would appeal to the children.  Also, she emphasized the stone and glass tiles, as she feared the ceramic tile would be less durable.

Fremont does have a lot of interactive art works – from decorating the ‘People Waiting for the Interurban’ (or J.P. Patches, or Lenin) statues to contributions to the movable art displayed at the Fremont Arts Council Solstice Parade.  However, these are impermanent contributions, no matter how many photos or videos are taken.  The B.F. Day Tile Mural, and the kids’ contributions, are a permanent part of the Fremont community!

Art In Progress

Seattle Public Schools end June 14th, and Nelson plans to have the students’ mosaics cemented to the wall by then.  “The good thing is that it is outside,” she explained, “I can work on it while the school is closed.”

Works by students at B.F. Day School inspired by the sculpture of Terry Turrell. Photo by K. Lindsay, May '13

Fremonsters can go see her progress, but please do not disturb – unless you can offer genuine assistance.  “I’m going to be doing the wall alone,” she acknowledged, “it is hard to get the cement on there.”  The students create the mosaics – they draw a design, then attach tiles to a clear piece of contact paper laid over the design until they get the result they want (sometimes discovering small details won’t turn out well,) – but they can’t help with the installation.  Last year, “I spent all of field day out there,” Nelson explained casually.

To help, or donate materials or funds, contact B.F. Day School at 206/252-6010.  For those who want to see the designs – this year, last year and nearly two decades before – visit the mural, which starts at the northeast corner of Fremont Ave N & N 39th St and continues east.

When viewing the mural, see the students of B.F. Day.  “I think everyone’s tiles show the diversity,” Nelson said of our community school.  “I think this is one of the most diverse [schools] I’ve been too,” she observed, “so many different backgrounds, languages, races and socio-economic…”  Yet, everyone comes together in our mural – representing the future generations of Fremont!

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©2013 Kirby Lindsay.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


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