A colorful mural on the school wall

Nome-Beltz’s class of 2022 is sprucing up their school’s walls with a mural that highlights how far the new art class has come since it began three years ago. The senior advanced art class has dedicated this semester to planning and creating an 18-by-7-foot wall painting on one of the school’s entryway walls.

The project was first dreamed up by Nome-Beltz art teacher Grace D’Antonio. She gave her advanced art class the assignment and then turned the responsibilities over to them. The class each submitted a sketch and voted on the one they liked best. 

The winning sketch combines various images of life around Nome, according to Nome-Beltz art student Jenae Matson.

“We chose to do a whole landscape: so it’s got the ocean on one side and then it fades into the mountains with fireweed and salmon in the water and birds in the sky and a sunset. So we’ve got all of these elements that we see around town,” Matson said.

The mural also features a boat owned by local fisherman and Nome-Beltz parent Frank McFarland, and musk ox, but not polar bears.

“Since that’s the mascot of our school, there are so many polar bears all over the school,” Matson said.

Nome-Beltz art student, Guadalupe Callahan said actually executing the project requires a lot of math. They sketched the project on a grid, using calculations to get the proportions right, according to Callahan. To get the sketch on the wall, the class had to repaint the wall white before sketching the design on the wall itself. To paint the actual images, they relied on both their memories and photos.

“A lot of that stuff is just what we see every day in the summer, so it wasn’t super hard. It didn’t really take a lot of reference photos, but of course, to get down to what fireweed actually looks like and the color, we did have to look at some reference photos,” Callahan said.

The students have been devoting more and more class time to the project over the semester, but now, Matson says is crunch time. Students are planning to start coming in on the weekends to paint, get the details down and see the project through.

This project breathes new life into art at Nome-Beltz, according to Callahan.

“Growing up in Nome, it was basically just you’re being taught by people who really enjoy art. It’s not something they mainly teach. I know coming into high school, my freshmen year, there was no art class. But D’Antonio came to our school, and she really wanted to get it started. Everybody was learning as the class progressed because Nome-Beltz hasn’t had one in a long time. But, I mean now, it is year three and we are doing a mural; like a really big mural I think it really has helped out in our school,” Callahan said.

Matson added that the whole process of painting the mural has been a really good experience for both the students who paint in their free time and for those who took on the mural as their first big project.

Matson and Callahan both expressed a hope that this project will inspire future Nome artists.

“I really hope this art class continues to make murals. It’s a really fun thing and I really hope more kids get into it, because art is a very universal thing, and living in a small town in Alaska, it’s not very easy to come by. A lot of our stuff is donated or people just got rid of some old art tools and we decided to take them in and use them, like canvases and paintbrushes and paint. So, I really hope that more news about this gets out in the community and more kids want to do it,” Callahan said.

The art class is hoping to finish the project by the end of April. As they finish up, the Nome-Beltz School newspaper will be publishing a couple of articles on the project.

Image at top: The new, nearly finished, Nome Beltz mural. Photo credit: Katherine Garrison. (2022)