By Jennifer Rios Staff Writer
(Photo by Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
A student walking past a 34-foot mural in the hallway at Westlake Middle School saw his schoolmates in artist smocks, brushes in hand and abstract faces several feet tall looking back.
"What is this?" he wanted to know.
"What do you want it to be?" local artist Michael Gadlin answered. "What does it look like?"
The mural, part of a schoolwide renovation project, depicts a line of faces and showcases the artist's style, which also can be seen on buildings in downtown Denver.
Gadlin did some of the work himself, but more importantly gave instructions to the 32 eighth grade students so they could make the art their own.
When researching someone to lead the class in replacing the old sunset mural near the school's front entrance, Westlake art teacher Marleen Seckendorf was struck by Gadlin's work, as well as by a video she saw of him working with youth.
"He's incredibly positive and personable, as well as extremely talented," Seckendorf said.
The eighth grade art class started the mural April 1 and likely will complete it next week.
Think 360 Arts for Learning, a nonprofit that helps connect artists to schools, and Scientific and Cultural Facilities District funds awarded to Broomfield made the mural project possible, said Seckendorf, who over the years has invited artists into her classroom through Think 360 Arts for Learning.
Beyond technical lessons — how to use neutral backgrounds, brush techniques and the basics of abstract art — students also picked up problem-solving skills and learned to work as a team.
"I don't know that I've had that many on one wall trying to figure it out," Gadlin said about the class size.
He expected to clean up mistakes, he said, but that hasn't been the case so far.
The new mural is just one part of improvement efforts underway inside the building.
Westlake is set to receive about $2.6 to $3 million worth of renovations as part of a $350 million bond Adams 12 school district voters passed in 2016, Principal Rachel Heide said. The school will get new carpet, plumbing and boiler work and technology upgrades in the form of interactive white boards and a classroom sound system. The work is slated to be complete before the next school year begins.
"We want the building to better reflect the school and be bright and energetic," Heide said. "I think the mural is a huge part of that."
Gadlin's other works feature mixed media and reused materials, such as newspaper articles and empty food containers, which become a time stamp on the works. His art can be seen along Denver's Cherry Creek Trail and the Denver Police Department District 2 station, according to his website.
Student Izzy Peel, 13, picked up Gadlin's camera on the first day of the mural project to document the progress and has gravitated toward that job since.
It fueled an existing interest in photography, which is something she wants to study in college. Over the weekend she and her mother went to a creek in Boulder to put up a hammock and practice taking nature photos.
Although she spends most of her time with a camera, she still spends a few minutes each class period with a paintbrush in hand.
"He' just lets us go for it," she said of Gadlin's teaching style. "He wants us to make it what we want — whatever we see is what it is."
Eighth grader Sabrina Rachjaibun on Monday paints a section of the mural at Westlake Middle School. Artist Michael Gadlin is working with students to paint a 34-foot-long mural inside the school. (Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer)