By Steve Hubrecht

A vibrant and colourful mural that would turn even toasty old Sam McGee’s head will soon grace J.A. Laird Elementary School, where it will do double duty as an eye-catching art piece and purposefully built wall-ball surface.

The mural is the work of J.A. Laird’s Grade 7 Legacy Project Group, explained vice-principal Crystal Woodworth. The group met weekly throughout the year, brainstorming ideas of what this year’s Grade 7 class can leave behind as a legacy for the school’s younger and future students to enjoy in years to come.

After a few sessions, the students in the group — Tyson Clark, Leighton Armstrong-Michel, Gabe Nielsen, and Anisha Waite — realized that creating a new wall-ball surface would be the perfect legacy. Wall-ball is a classic schoolyard game involving a ball, a wall to bounce it on, and a whole lot of fun, but unfortunately, students can’t use most of the side surfaces on the buildings at Laird, as the repeated bouncing of the ball could potentially damage the building’s envelope.

“Then they thought ‘if we are going to make a surface, we ought to decorate it,” said Woodworth. After carefully considering many different decoration designs, the group reached out to local artist Kelly Tomalty to ask her for help in creating a mural. Tomalty met with the students, getting a clear idea of their vision for the mural.

The mural is comprised of four panels (three of them are roughly seven and a half feet tall by four feet wide, and one of them is seven and a half feet tall by two feet wide) which will be installed on the shed beside the Laird playground. Work on the final touches wrapped up just days ago, and it was unveiled at the school earlier this week, on Tuesday, June 22. The vibrant and colourful scene shows a host of animals common to the Columbia Valley — including a mama bear and bear cub, a skunk, lynx, fox, eagle, deer, and wolf — perched amidst natural surrounding of trees, a lake and mountains, all under a swirling sunset sky.

If at first glance at the mural, viewers’ thoughts immediately turn to Rob Service classics such as the Cremation of Sam McGee or the Shooting of Dan McGrew, well that’s no accident, as Tomalty told the Pioneer that she was aiming for something “fun and playful but not cartoonish” and so did it in “a kind of Ted Harrison style.” Ted Harrison is the iconic Yukon artist who illustrated the Cremation of Sam McGee, the Shooting of Dan McGrew and several other children’s books.

Tomalty took a month off from work (she and her husband are business owners) to pour herself into the mural. She painted three and half of the four panels, and the students themselves finished off the flowers that fill the bottom corner of the left panel. Indeed if viewers look closely at the flowers, they’ll see each Grade 7 student has signed one.

“It’s a beautiful work of art. It’s stunning. It will be a showpiece at the school,” said Woodworth. “It’s a landscape of how the Legacy Project Group students see our valley, and what matters to them. It’s very colourful. There are animals, symbols, and all kinds of really interesting details that the kids thought should be included. It really turned out more spectacularly than any of us imagined it would.”

Woodworth said credit is due to the Legacy Project Group students, who worked hard to make the wall-ball mural a reality, and to Tomalty, who dedicated so much of her time to it.

“I feel humbled by what (Tomalty) has done. The kids are so excited and so proud to have been part of it,” said Woodworth.

Tomalty, for her part, was grateful to the students. “It was a really neat opportunity. The last time a mural at Laird was done, I think, was when my own kids were in elementary and primary school. Now one of my kids is a teacher at Laird. So these opportunities don’t come up all that often, and I’m honoured to have been chosen,” said Tomalty. “The students, from what I understand, really have had fun with it. It’s been great.”