California student mural brings ‘flowers of one garden’ to life

Home Stories Social Impact California student mural brings ‘flowers of one garden’ to life
November 30, 2018
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When art teacher David Draime was approached by a colleague to design a large exterior mural and organize students to paint it at their Fairfield, California, high school, he hesitated.

“I didn’t think I would have the time or the energy for such a huge undertaking,” says Draime, a Baha’i and one of three art teachers at Vanden High School. “But after a few days, I began to reconsider.”

In conceiving the mural that was to stretch all the way across a street-facing wall, he took inspiration from the Baha’i concept that we’re all “flowers of one garden,” which he felt was especially “positive and timely for a school with a diverse student body.”

Kira Swafford is flanked by two of the dozens of flowers making up a mural painted by students at Vanden High School in Fairfield, California. Photo courtesy of David Draime

So over the 2017–18 winter break, he came up with a flower-filled design. Then he gave the project to his four advanced art classes, totaling about 95 students.

As the mural project developed, he says, “I started receiving confirmations that … whatever help I needed, all the time, energy and organizational skills this task would require would most certainly be forthcoming.”

The school’s principal, Bill Sarty, and the superintendent of schools, Pam Conklin, got behind the proposed design, and funding was secured. Work on the mural began in mid-April 2018.

At a staff meeting, Sarty related that Draime’s art students would be creating a “very special mural for our school.” Without sharing details of the design, he added: “I just want to say that this mural will have a very powerful message which will unite our school.”

Students add their unique touches

Students caught the spirit, too. Each one was given a photo of a flower and some greenery as a reference for painting a small section of the master design in acrylic.

Jordyn Clayton stands in front of a mural she helped paint at Vanden High School in Fairfield, California. Photo courtesy of David Draime

“In the midst of painting my flower, I realized that each and every one of us literally represents a flower on that wall,” recalls Jordyn Clayton, a junior.

“Even though we have our own ways and styles of creating our flower, when you look at it all together it makes up the most beautiful and satisfying thing anyone could lay their eyes on — and created by teens!” 

Says Kira Swafford, a senior, “I feel proud that I was a part of creating such a beautiful and inspiring mural. It was also fun because everyone got along well and connected over the painting process. It was almost like we became united as the mural says. It was an experience I will never forget.”

“It was really a sight to behold,” says Draime. “They took ownership of this project and devoted themselves to it, each according to her or his own abilities.”

He says the students themselves “were a beautiful, living example of the very thing they were painting. Here, you have a very diverse group of students — diverse in their ethnicity, religion, national origin, socio-economic status, disability, and, importantly, diverse in their artistic abilities — all working unitedly together towards the creation of a common, beautiful vision.”

Some students regularly stayed after school to work on the mural, while others showed up on weekends as well.

Timely bits of assistance

At every stage, help came just when needed, according to Draime.

“Several days before we began priming the wall, I happened to be talking with one of our counselors. He casually said to me, ‘Hey, you should do a time-lapse video of the students painting this mural.’

“I was so busy with organizing the project, ordering supplies, etc., that I had not even thought of that. What a great idea! If he had not mentioned it to me at that time, I may have only thought of it after several weeks into the project and then it would have been too late.”

Draime enlisted the help of Vanden High School’s video production teacher, Brent Manuel, who loaned him the equipment and showed him how to use it.

“I think in its own way, the video is as important as the mural itself in that the making of this beautiful and important work of art can be enjoyed by everyone around the globe,” says Draime.

Upon seeing the video, Superintendent Conklin sent a message: “I just shared the video with my family. … It is simply beautiful. … We all agree that this is one of the best projects we have ever seen. It warms my heart every time I watch it.”

The project was not finished until the week of graduation in early June — a total of six weeks. In sum, more than 3,000 student-hours went into the artwork’s creation.

“Put another way, if one person were tasked with this project and worked full time on it without a vacation, it would take that person over a year and a half to complete it,” notes Draime.

Clayton, one one of the student artists, sums up: “We all represent a flower on this wall and each of the flowers are so beautiful in their own way. This mural literally says to me that there is enough room for everyone to stand in the light and shine.” 

See a local TV news report here:

Student artists proudly pose with the mural they helped create on a street-facing wall of Vanden High School in Fairfield, California. Photo courtesy of David Draime
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Alissa Taylor paints a section of the "unity in diversity" mural at Vanden High School in Fairfield, California. Photo courtesy of David Draime
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Seth Underwood with his section of a mural painted at Vanden High School in Fairfield, California. Photo courtesy of David Draime
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Jordyn Clayton stands in front of a mural she helped paint at Vanden High School in Fairfield, California. Photo courtesy of David Draime
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(From left) Sarah Curtis, Faizah Wasley, Brittany Galicia and Ednalyn Abaquita show off the mural they helped paint at Vanden High School in Fairfield, California. Photo courtesy of David Draime
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