The community of Mountlake Terrace Elementary (MTE) has been bouncing ideas off the wall for the artwork they want displayed at their new school building, according to The Hawkeye, Mountlake Terrace High School’s student-run newspaper.
They established the Mountlake Terrace Elementary-Andrew Morrison Committee (MTEAM) to work with artist Andrew Morrison, a 1991 Mountlake Terrace High School (MTHS) alum who has completed murals for MTE and MTHS in the past, and determine what artwork should be displayed.
MTE is currently being remodeled in its original site, causing the school to operate at the former Woodway Elementary location at 9521 240th St. S.W. in Edmonds. Despite the makeover, the MTE community still dwells over a well-loved red and white hawk mural from the old building. That hawk later became the official mascot logo of MTE, and the MTEAM aims to recreate that mural at the new building.
However, the hawk logo couldn’t be the face of MTE without its creator, Morrison. Morrison’s longtime friendship with the students, families and staff began approximately 10 years ago when he walked into the office of principal Doug Johnson, who had just begun his first year of leading MTE.
Morrison told Johnson about how he formed his dream of creating a mural for MTE as he walked by the school every day. Though the school lacked the funds to pay Morrison for his work, he insisted he fulfill this dream for free so long as the school provided supplies.
Johnson received approval from the school district to complete the project, then asked MTE students to vote on a mural idea. They decided on the iconic red and white hawk against a red background.
“[The mural was a] very prominent piece of public art in our community,” Johnson said. “It was an incredible gift to our school.”
Over time, MTE has built a collection of photos of the student body posing in front of the hawk mural. Morrison returned to MTE to paint country flags and the school’s motto around the building, again with the help of students, who helped him paint.
“It was just a part of the landscape of [students’] experience at our school,” Johnson said. “Also anybody that came to our school, they saw flags from around the world around the school. I think that creates a feeling of welcome and that is what we’re trying to accomplish in our new school as well.”
After Morrison built a strong rapport with the MTE community, they couldn’t say goodbye to the renowned hawk mural. The remodeling of MTE led the former building to be torn down, reducing the artwork to ruins.
The MTEAM considered reviving the hawk by physically moving the concrete wall on which it decorated, but its cost of over $100,000 prevented the school from pursuing this method. Alternatively, the MTEAM considered taking photos of the mural to reproduce the image onto a wall on the new building.
Johnson said a recreation of the hawk mural is “not the same as what we’ve lost here” due to its sentimentality. However, MTE will put a twist on the new version. The modified artwork will be a graphic print of the old hawk mural with the word “Welcome” around it in over 40 different languages.
“When someone walks into the school, they’ll walk in and see this beautiful new school. Before they do their parking, they will see the mural out near the parking lot. They’ll walk past that, into the main building and they’ll see this reproduction of this iconic art of the hawk. They’ll see ‘Welcome’ in so many different languages, and then as they walk into the gym, their eyes will look upward and see faces of children in our community looking down on them,” Johnson said, setting the scene.
Johnson and Morrison reconnected to discuss fundraising and ideas for Morrison’s endeavors to create new murals at the renovated MTE building. The current plan is to create a mural of the faces of actual MTE students, but the MTEAM still seeks input from the greater community. The idea plays off Morrison’s tendency to include large faces in his art and also reflects the student body of MTE that speaks a total of 28 different languages.
“We have kids from all over the world and our families have such incredible stories. The diversity of this community is part of what is just beautiful about this place. We want to have a school that reflects that,” Johnson said.
He envisions the mural of diversity in the school’s gym, which will be home to MTE’s largest mural. Johnson wants students to see themselves represented in Morrison’s artwork.
“We want to have kids walk into the gym and look up and see faces like theirs looking down at them,” he said. “We want that to be something that is a celebration of the diversity of the cultures in our community and we want that to be a reflection for the kids as well, so they look up and see the diversity of our school reflected.”
As for another mural, the MTEAM has no specific plans in place for the design of the retaining wall near the parking lot. Due to its outdoor location that will expose the wall artwork to weathering, they plan to keep the future mural for about 10 years, then ask another local artist to paint another image on top of the original.
The third mural is slated to be placed indoors with the help of students; however, the MTEAM hasn’t yet decided on a solid plan.
Johnson upholds the value of celebrating diversity in both the artwork and the artist, as he contends it can inspire and unify kids. He hopes students can take the opportunity to look up to Morrison as a role model for creating beautiful work.
“I think another piece that’s really important for kids is when they know Andrew. Here is a person who is Native American, his ancestry is Apache and Haida, and here is a local person of color who is doing incredible work in his life and our kids have a chance to know him and be surrounded by the beauty of his art everyday at our school,” he said. “There are so many different impacts. I think the greatest one though is I really believe that seeing the beauty of art around us inspires kids to do their own art, and it just provides inspiration and raises up our community.”
Johnson admits to being a fan of Morrison—he’s purchased one of his works of art. He believes Morrison’s signature is including large, realistic faces in his art, which will be a component of the gym mural.
Over the summer and fall, Morrison will interview community members about the type of art they would like to see in the area. He also plans to take photos of locals and make sketches of them in order to capture the likeness of each individual and incorporate them into his artwork at MTE.
“I think it’s important for the mural to represent diversity because Mountlake Terrace is a diverse community of many different ethnicities and nationalities and walks of life, people and community members,” Morrison said. “It’s good to have a feeling of inclusive nature, of welcoming people into the atmosphere; it helps promote a safe environment to have all walks of life represented in a safe place.”
Within those stages of life that Morrison observes while painting, he has a particular attachment to the youth. Morrison values making art while being surrounded by people younger than him, because he enjoys their energy and ends with day with a heightened understanding of how “life goes on.”
He has formerly painted the murals in the MTHS HUB of two hawks facing each other from opposing walls. By exposing the Mountlake Terrace community to his art, Morrison hopes youth can “see the power within the arts.”
MTE construction will finish this summer and students can start school at the new site in September. Morrison will visit the school during winter break to start and complete the gym mural. However, Johnson said that date is still “penciled in,” as the amount of funding will impact the creation of the mural.
—By Annika Prom, The Hawkeye
Reproduced with permission from the writer.