Claremont students, artist make public art a reality

A group of Claremont students and a local distinguished artist are embracing the collaborative nature of public art through one of the area’s latest community masterpieces, now on display in Pomona.

An 8-by-8-foot collage made entirely of ceramic tiles proudly stands on the south side of a new business on Foothill Boulevard just west of Sumner Avenue. The artwork is a concept born from Claremont artist Maureen Wheeler, brought to life with the help of 5 Claremont High School art students. After nearly 6 months of work by Ms. Wheeler and members of Anne Mumper’s advanced ceramics class, all involved in the art project watched as their hard work finally came together this week.

“It’s just a wonderful feeling to have it all come together,” Ms. Wheeler said. “I took many ceramics classes throughout high school and college so I know the problems that can happen. It’s definitely challenging, but they did such a great job.”

The building where the artwork is now placed, owned by Ms. Wheeler and her family, needed a piece of public art, as designated by zoning requirements of the neighboring city of Pomona, according to Ms. Wheeler. With the help of her husband Paul, she decided to involve CHS students in the project.

“I have a degree in art education so it was kind of close to my heart,” Ms. Wheeler said of giving the CHS artists their first public art commission. “I passed them the ball and they ran with it.”

Ms. Mumper was more than eager to get her students out of their CHS studio and into the community to try out their artistic expertise. The practice and exposure has been invaluable, she says.

“To have real-life experience was just amazing for us because we are constantly just working in our little bubble of a classroom,” Ms. Mumper said. “To finally get something that will be a permanent fixture in the community and gives them a chance to show off what they know is really exciting.”

With participants nxious to get started, work began in May as soon as the students had submitted their Advanced Placement art portfolios, according to Ms. Mumper. Over the last 4 months, the students set to work on creating the more than 150 ceramic pieces that would become the installation.

“It included a lot of firsts for us,” Ms. Mumper said, admitting that it was the first time she and the students had worked together on a large-scale assemblage of that kind. “Our first mural and it’s going on display!”

With their classroom work usually focused on sculpting, it was a welcome but admittedly challenging venture for the advanced ceramics students.

“It was tough, interpreting the key and making sure all the pieces fit together,” said senior Isabella Mendoza.

“We had to remake one piece like 3 times,” added senior Julian To.

But the students were up for the task, however difficult. Equipped with a large Xerox of Ms. Wheeler’s painting, the students were tasked with breaking up the drawing into more manageable pieces no larger than 18 inches, numbering all the parts. Once numbered and cut to their satisfaction, the students dissected the Xerox with exacto knives and rolled out the clay to begin making the ceramic pieces.

“Ceramics is a hard thing on deadline,” Ms. Mumper noted. “It’s a long process. From the time you roll something out, dry it, then  fire it, glaze it and fire it again, it’s been a month or at least 2 weeks.”

Despite the tediousness of the project, it wasn’t all work, said Julian and Isabella, who enjoyed applying some of the techniques like glazing.

“It was cool seeing how the colors turned out,” Julian said.

Many coats of glaze later, not to mention a few mishaps along the way, the work was complete. Seeing the finished product pieced together like a jigsaw on the floor prior to placement was an exciting moment for teacher and students alike.

“It was the first time we’d seen it together, ever,” Ms. Mumper said. “There was a lot of worry that pieces weren’t going to fit back together, or that there were lost pieces or that the colors weren’t going to work. To finally see it working together was quite satisfying.”

With their first public art project now under their belts, Ms. Mumper hopes to create more such pieces for the community to enjoy, with help from her hardworking art students. Tentative plans include fixtures around campus and in the CHS garden space. For now, they are just basking in their current achievement.

“We were all nervous about how it would turn out in the beginning but, as we were working together, we helped each other through it,” said senior Garrett Shipway. “It all came together.”

—Beth Hartnett


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