When an international pandemic reached the area and schools in Illinois were ordered to shut their doors on March 13, 2020, Greta Staneviciute simply figured her colorful design for a ceramic tile mural meant as her eighth-grade class’ legacy project was toast.
Classes never resumed that school year and Staneviciute, who is now a sophomore at Riverside-Brookfield High School, never set foot inside Hauser Junior High School again.
“When COVID hit, I kept thinking about the piece: ‘Oh my gosh, what’s gonna happen?’” Staneviciute said.
What turned out happening is that art teacher Harjit Singh, social studies teacher Matt Muto and STEAM teacher David Hanke soldiered on, enlisting the help of fellow Hauser faculty members to finish what the Class of 2020 had started.
And, on the morning of Sept. 30 just before the start of classes, Staneviciute and classmate Sophia Singh, pulled back the sheet covering the roughly 5-by-3 foot work of art that now adorns a wall in the first-floor hallway near the school’s old main entrance.
“I’m just stunned,” said Staneviciute, who was inside Hauser for the first time since March 13, 2020. “It looks so good, and hearing that all the teachers helped, it makes me feel amazing. I would have never thought that this would be finished, and to see all of the [Hauser] community’s help – that’s the meaning of [the mural].”
For several years, Singh and Muto have partnered to create an eighth-grade legacy project using resources developed by the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, which according to its website “helps students connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives,” including issues such as “racism, antisemitism and prejudice at pivotal moments in history.”
The Hauser legacy initiative took its inspiration from one developed at Bell Elementary School in Chicago, which also uses Facing History as a resource.
“They had this legacy project that they started many years ago as a way for eighth-graders to leave something behind in the school, that would live on,” Muto said. “Typically it’s art-based but also connecting to whatever is happening in the world at that time.”
Past legacy art projects at Hauser have used the style of a particular artist, such as Keith Haring, as a formal theme, but Muto and Singh went a new route for the Class of 2020.
“We had a theme we wanted to follow, and we’ve been consistent with it the last two years,” Singh said. “It’s about community, about diversity. We kept with those core ideas. … [In 2020] we gave students the opportunity to create their own design rather than basing it off of an artist.”
As a result, students submitted their own designs and picked the design that would eventually be turned into the class’ legacy artwork.
“They kind of gravitated toward Greta’s [design],” said Singh. “We also critiqued all of the work.”
Staneviciute’s design features Riverside’s water tower, with the sun forming a halo around the peak, as a central motif. Blue and green sun rays form the sky and forming a backdrop to a landscape of trees in the shape of upraised hands, both white and brown.
“The hands represented the student diversity within our community,” Singh said.
In the past, Singh and Muto have relied heavily on the student art club to execute the legacy artwork, and that was the plan in 2020 as well. They projected Staneviciute’s drawing over 130-140 tiles and outlined the design over them. The idea was to have students glaze a section of the mural before those tiles were fired in a kiln.
Then the pandemic hit. Classrooms closed and the project temporarily was shelved.
“You think back to the early days of the pandemic, you’re not sure what you’re allowed to touch,” said Muto. “We were thinking, should we send tiles home to kids? But we didn’t know how safe that was, so that spring it was paused.”
When faculty returned to school for the start of the 2020-21 school year, the prior year’s eighth-graders were gone, so Singh and Muto went to Principal April Mahy and pitched a new approach for getting the mural finished.
“That’s when staff and admin and teachers all got involved,” Muto said.
Singh, Muto and Hanke, who was new in the building last year, set about organizing the mural, numbering tiles and pairing them with specific colors of paint – essentially creating a paint-by-numbers assembly line – where teachers could paint as many tiles as they wanted during breaks or at home.
Faculty started glazing the tiles, some of which required multiple layers of color, in January before bringing them back to Singh who would fire them in the kiln. Singh, Muto and Hanke then put the pieces together, with Hanke devising the final element, the hanging mechanism.
“Because the last year and a half was lost, it would have been easy for the school to shelve this,” Hanke said. “It speaks volumes for the teachers and administration to keep this project going. It’s a true celebration and testament to [Mahy’s] vision of community and how Hauser fits into it.”