I am very proud to finally be able to share with you the unveiling of the St. Marguerite d’Youville “Living History” Mural. It’s taken several months from the initial proposal to the final installation of this collaborative mural, but the results are well worth it. The mural measures 8′ x 8′. There are over 400 polymer clay relief symbols in this installation, plus the portrait of the school’s patron saint, St. Marguerite d’Youville.
I have to admit, when I was first approached by the teachers at the school to come up with a concept that had to incorporate so many different elements, I was a little worried. The mural had to contain aspects of Canadian history; Indigenous symbols; Religious symbols; the school community; and it had to involve the whole student body of 400+ students at St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Elementary School. Oh yes, one more thing . . . it would be done in relief, in my medium of polymer clay. Coming up with a concept that included all of this was not easy, but like many light bulb moments, the solution came in the middle of the night. Once the concept and all the design work was approved we moved into production mode.
Step 1: Training day with the teachers.
Step 2: Teaching and working with the students to create the symbols. We used Sculpey III in every colour available. We had two pasta machines constantly conditioning and flattening the clay. We divided the symbols so that the kindergarden and Grade 1 students created the powerballs and circles; grade 1-2 created the feathers; grades 3-4 created the fish; grades 5-6 created the more complex symbols. We had groups of up to 90 students working in the school library at one time. There were always 3-5 teachers on hand as well as 5-6 senior students helping. The students were fantastic, but I now have a whole new respect for how hard teachers work.
Step 3: All the symbols the kids and teachers made were taken back to my studio where I did quality control . . . cleaning, defining, finishing, baking and glazing. I counted, adding a few missing symbols, sent a few requests back to the senior grades and encouraged some of the teachers to add their own work to the collection as well.
Step 4: Creating the base of the mural from two 4′ x 8′ wood panels. Designing the shape, jigsawing the wood panels, sanding, priming, breaking the sections down, and painting the wood background.
A big thank you to Paverpol artist, Mary Lou Devine for her help creating and stiffening St. Marguerites habit.
Step 5: Sculpting St. Marguerite d’Youville. This is a life-size relief sculpture based on a beautiful image one of the teachers provided for me. I used “Living Doll” polymer clay for the face and hand. I mixed all the bits and pieces of leftover Sculpey III clay to create a nice grey colour which I used to make the sleeves of her habit. Her tunic and headpiece, however were a challenge. I needed to make sure they would survive curious little hands and remain stiff. For this part I enlisted the help of friend and Paverpol (liquid polymer) artist, Mary Lou Devine. This medium is strong enough to withstand the outdoor elements. Mary Lou stiffened the fabric of her headdress and coated the front of her tunic. After the work was done it had to rest and cure for 2 weeks. The blessed medal is the Crucifix of St. Benedict and comes all the way from the Vatican.
Step 6: Attaching and laying out a pattern for all the symbols around the image of St. Marguerite d’Youville was a process that took two weeks, on and off, and several reconfigurations.
Step 7: The installation. It wasn’t easy is all I can say. Luckily I had the help of my strong nephew, my patient husband and 3 teachers. Once everything was safely secured to the wall, my team helped me add all the finishing details, we made a few corrections, cleaned up some edges and patted ourselves on the back while taking lots of photos.
In this last photo you meet the whole team. From left to right, Diane, Me, France, Virginie, Principal Jeannie Armstrong, Sylvie and Sister Shiela from the Order of Grey Nuns.
The whole process of how this mural evolved was made into a lovely slideshow presentation. To see the slide show you can click on the link below or copy and paste in your browser.