Germantown High students’ artwork will be part of community mural

Germantown High School senior Cornell Gilliland took a large sheet of paper to a deserted table in the basement of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, where he attends a daily after-school program.

With utter confidence and absorption, Gilliland used a ruler to whisk his pencil across the page. Geometric shapes begin to emerge.

He helped himself to a few cookies and politely rebuffed several adult volunteers and teachers who bent solicitously over his work, suggesting he reduce its size.

The 18-year-old knew what he was doing on Wednesday as he and other students teamed with the Mural Arts Program to help develop a new Germantown mural.

Mural designer and lead artist Jon Laidacker, who is overseeing this opportunity for Germantown students to contribute to the development of a piece slated for the wall of a former bookstore at 310 W. Chelten Ave., encouraged Gilliland’s expansive approach.

“This is a part of the mural that I’m relinquishing a certain amount of control over,” Laidacker said of a mural wall which will feature segments directly inspired by the students’ artwork.

Said Linda Slodki, president and co-founder of the Mount Airy Art Garage, which is hosting community painting sessions for the project, “If you’re going to have a mural in Germantown, you need these kids to be on there. They need to be celebrated.”

Stained Glass Project thinks locally

A group of about 20 students from fifth through 12th grade gathered Wednesday for their usual session with members of the Stained Glass Project.

Founded a few years ago by Joan Myerson Shrager and Paula Mandel as a weekly artistic component of First United Methodist Church of Germantown’s existing after-school program, participants design and make their own stained-glass panels which are then donated to decorate needy schools. Now, they’re turning their design talents to their very own segment of the developing Germantown mural.

As the future host of work on the mural, Mount Airy Art Garage brought the Stained Glass Project and Mural Arts Program together. When Laidacker heard about the students’ work, he knew he wanted to incorporate it in the mural.

“Germantown: It’s that simple,” Laidacker said to the students before they were unleashed with a pile of paper, pencils, markers, paints and paintbrushes to develop their ideas. “What resonates in your head when you think of Germantown?”

Creative work begins

Pencils and a small blizzard of pink eraser bits gave way to contented passes with the paintbrushes.

As the kids munched soft pretzels, a wide variety of images soon erupted across the room, from graceful vines to iconic sports logos, hands, peace signs, street scenes and sandwiches, all between appreciative sniffs of the scented markers.

Eleventh-grader Deshawn Brewer sketched the Philadelphia skyline and 12th-grader Marie Jeanne Haba, a native of Guinea, drew a large and graceful flower. Heading to college next year, she feels torn between the possibilities of art and a career in nursing.

For the next few weeks, the drawings will stay at the church along with the art supplies so they can continue working on their designs. Then, Laidacker will collect the papers and work the submissions into his own master design.

When finished, the mural will be something to inspire Germantown students’ pride for many years to come.

Said Slodki, “It’s about community and relationships and art.”

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