The library of New Castle Elementary School was mostly quiet, except for the sound of a brush dab-dab-dabbing at the walls. It was the sound of growth.
In just a few hours, a large tree grew from floor to ceiling, with branches spread out over the tops of some of the library’s bookshelves.
Among those branches was a treehouse some of the school’s older students recognized as the Magic Treehouse. Its creator, Pam Morrison, painted the tree in a little less than a day.
She worked amid slightly hushed questions from children, including “what’s she painting now,” “how long did it take you to do that,” “will you finish that one today,” and “how does she do that?”
Elsewhere in the library, Clifford the Big Red Dog peers out of a window, and Eric Carle’s Hungry Caterpillar creeps along the wall over the librarian’s desk. In the hallways, a mural featuring several children’s books characters surrounds the library window. Near the school’s main entrance, a re-creation of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ takes up a large portion of the hallway wall.
Morrison, a self taught artist, began painting in the school about three weeks ago. She said she decided to approach the school about painting the murals after reading about New Castle’s Commonwealth Accountability Testing System scores.
“I wanted to do something that enriched not only my daughter’s education, but all students’ educations,” she said.
New Castle Elementary School principal Barbara James, “an artist from way back,” said Morrison has become so popular within the school that there is a sign up sheet for teachers who want to work with her.
James said Morrison approached her about doing the paintings.
“She is wonderful, she just walked up to me one day,” and asked if she could paint murals in the school.
James, who said she’d done murals in the children’s bathrooms herself, was delighted by the idea.
“I just don’t have the time to do it,” she said. “I no sooner get started on something then somebody needs me.”
James said she asked only for some art Masterworks, and then Morrison started with Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
The first time James saw Morrison work with students in classrooms, she liked what she saw.
“The first time she did it, I was just amazed,” she said.
“She’s working her way around the school. People are grabbing her out of the hallway.”
James said Morrison also has painted some of the heaters, and turned one into a fish tank.
Feedback from students and visitors, James said, has been extremely positive.
“We had a state kitchen inspector in one day, and they made a point of saying how beautiful the school looked,” she said.
Additionally, students and parents are thrilled, according to James.
For ten years, Morrison has painted, both for herself and for others. While employed with the Oldham County Public Schools, she worked with autistic children and conducted what she called the Picture Lady program. In that program, she said, she would show works of art to the students, and then together, they would recreate them.
Morrison used a similar method at New Castle, recreating van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting with Jennifer Peniston’s kindergarten students using painted paper plates and students in Julie Powell’s class helped Morrison recreate van Gogh’s Irises painting.
“I guess my favorite thing to paint is murals,” she said. “It took me a long time to paint small.”
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