A new, and very large, piece of artwork is nearly complete at Su-Valley Junior and Senior High School in the Northern Valley. Two local artists have been painting a mural on the school’s new climbing wall.
The Upper Valley is home to numerous prolific artists. Two of them, Tony Crocetto and Bill Barstow, have been working for about three weeks on the largest project either of them has attempted. They have been painting a massive landscape onto a climbing wall that is over twenty-five feet tall. The artwork begins on the lower “traverse” section of the wall with a colorful depiction of the Susitna Valley. The valley gives way to the blues and whites of the Alaska Range before topping out at a rendition of Denali with a color palette reminiscent of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.
Jason Mabry, Principal of Su-Valley, says that the project was funded through money that was set aside for use after the current school was finished. The fund is there to provide replacement of school projects that were not covered by insurance after the original Su-Valley school burned in 2007. Mabry says that the climbing wall has been discussed for years, and credits much of the drive behind it to Su-Valley’s P.E. teacher.
“Steve Harrison was a big proponent of that, our physical education teacher. As we were looking at the wall and the design, really the painting was his idea, which is ‘Why don’t we put up a mountain scene so that students–when they’re doing the traversing wall or the climbing wall–can actually climb a mountain or traverse a hill…things like that.”
The painting of the wall is nearly complete, now, and while some artistic license was taken, the artists are trying to keep the general feel true to the actual area landscape. Tony Crocetto says that Steve Harrison was not only instrumental in turning the wall into an art project, but also provided photographs that guided the artists’ efforts. Tony describes one picture in particular and how it led to the basic design.
“It was up on the mountain–like the approach–but it was looking up the West Rib, and the West Buttress was in there, and the Cassin. So, we kinda based it loosely off that. It was interesting. Bill did a really rough sketch, so we kept the sketch and we basically reproduced the sketch on the wall twenty eight feet high and fifty feet long. It was really cool, initially, that it was done in this beautiful blue paint and looked like a giant crayon drawing.”
Bill Barstow says that the scale of the project provided new challenges for both of the artists. He says the largest piece he had done previously was eight feet by sixteen feet, much smaller than the wall that stretches more than fifty feet long and nearly twenty-eight feet high. He describes how the rough sketch began to get filled in when they started working in full scale.
“I went up on the lift with a brush on a pole and one color of paint, and Tony was back where you can get perspective. When you’re up on the wall, like if you are climbing, you can’t tell where you are. You have to see landmarks that are on the sketch, and go up with a plan, and then with another eye down there you’re able to outline the whole thing in a proportion that’s close to the sketch. Then we started filling in the parts. Things would suggest themselves like glaciers, or a cloud, or a certain type of tundra hill, and through a process of exploration and being able to pick up on those things that suggest themselves.”
Once the sections were filled in, they represented a variety of landscape, color, realism, and perspective. Some areas, such as Denali, are easily recognizable. Other areas are more representative of the landscape as a whole and not meant to be copies of particular landmarks. Now that the painting is nearly finished, I asked Principal Mabry how he feels about the results.
“I think it looks great. It’s really cool how they went from…just drawing a couple of lines across the corner of the gym to what we have up now, which I think is really cool.”
The artists are pleased, too. The project was new for them both in terms of size and the level of collaboration involved. In perhaps the truest test of success, they say that they remain friends after the three weeks spent painting together.
The climbing wall is expected to be ready to use in six to eight weeks, after the handholds are installed and the staff can be trained by an expert on safety procedures.