In the spirit of the season, the middle school art classes have presented a lasting gift to the students of Forest Park. They transformed the hallway linking Field-Stevenson and the middle school into a pantheon of portraits. The mural features 38 giants of American history and culture. Students, staff and parents are already drawing strength and encouragement from the faces and words.

The mural fulfills a long-held dream for social studies teacher Dan Stasur. He worked with art teacher Jennifer Norton to select the subjects, find photographs and adorn the sterile cinder blocks with explosions of color. Stasur’s favorite portraits include Elmo, “the world’s greatest teacher,” from Sesame Street and the Tuskegee Airmen, several of whom visited his class five years ago.

Eighth-grader Nicole Evans worked on a painting honoring the Air Force’s Red Tailed Angels. She also helped paint the portrait of Anne Frank. Nicole and her fellow artists worked on the mural from the second week of school until its unveiling on Nov. 25.

The students only had primary colors to work with and learned how to combine them to achieve the desired shades. They projected pictures on the wall, traced them with markers and mixed the paint. The gallery displays a rainbow of skin tones.

Nicole had signed up for the mural class last year, along with Forest Park lifer, Emily Mott. Emily recalled that black and white photographs, such as the picture of Albert Einstein, forced the artists to come up with their own color schemes. Initially, the students worked individually on the portraits. Later, they traced and painted in assembly-line fashion, working feverishly to finish in time for the ribbon cutting.

Their efforts have completely blown away the two ringleaders. Norton had never attempted a mural before and knew her students would have to learn color values and proportion in order to make the portraits jump off the wall. If they failed, she figured the wall could be repainted.

The artists, though, went above and beyond her expectations. And they worked so quickly that paintings seemed to appear overnight. She especially remembered the buzz created by the Obama portrait. She saw members of the basketball team vow to tap the painting of the president-elect and Michael Jordan before each game.

Aside from inspiration, the paintings serve as a brilliant educational tool. Stasur said that the mural energizes everyone, and parents were reading quotes aloud to their kids when they came for conferences.

It is hoped that the mural will continue to thrill and teach Forest Park students for a long time to come. As one of our great art teachers once said, “Anything is possible, with tarps covering the floor.”