At Willard Elementary, Mural Becomes a Tradition

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Willard 5th grader Savannah Peterson poses with her design that was selected for Willard’s mural project.

Driving down East 30th Street on Saturday morning, near the Iowa State Fairgrounds, it appeared that there was road construction up ahead. A flashing sign told drivers to merge to the left. Orange cones blocked off a lane of traffic.

But as you got closer it became clear these safety precautions weren’t for construction, they were for an installation as Willard Elementary School students were painting a new mural for the neighborhood.

This has become a tradition for the Willard Wildcats. Last year then-5th grader Keila Cerda created a design that was painted on the side of the Fairgrounds Hardware store.

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This is the second year in a row Williard 5th graders designed and installed a mural to beautify and brighten their neighborhood.

This year 5th grader Savannah Peterson drew the winning design, a panorama of the State Capitol divided into four sections, one for each season. The location of this latest work of public art is the S&H Electric Company located at 212 East 30th.

Both Willard murals will be seen literally by millions, not only passersby throughout the year but also people from across Iowa and around the country who will head to the Iowa State Fair in August.

It took a team to transfer Savannah’s artwork from a couple of sheets of paper to a 50 long wall of bricks. Principal Julie Kruse and art teacher Lindsie Manzer included the project in the curriculum for the 5th grade art class, and saw that it combined creativity with math, public speaking, and collaboration.

Des Moines-based artist Molly Free then stepped in to help, taking Savannah’s work and sketching it to the wall so that it was ready to be painted come Saturday morning. When the morning arrived parents were on hand to do everything from pouring paint to prepping the wall to picking up pizzas for lunch. And, of course, a couple of dozen of Savannah’s classmates were there, brushes in hand, to bring the details of her creation to life, from the American flag fluttering over the golden dome to spring flowers in bloom on the Capitol grounds.

This is the second week in a row that DMPS elementary students were creating new public art for Des Moines. Last week it was Perkins Elementary School’s turn. In both cases Dave Diers of Logan Construction was a quarterback of sorts for the team efforts. More than a year ago he set the wheels in motion that led to Willard’s first mural, and remains committed to seeing opportunities for student-created public art become a reality. In fact, he mentioned being contacted by other Des Moines schools interested in their own projects and is hoping others in the community will provide their support to expand the work.

In the case of Willard’s newest mural, a big thanks to Great Western Bank, the Davis Brown Law Firm, Jordinson Construction, and the Des Moines Public Schools Foundation for providing financial assistance to help students realize their goal of brightening up their neighborhood.

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