Colourful mural nears completion at Hanwell Park Academy near Fredericton

Laura Forrester has spent around 10 weeks working on this mural at Hanwell Park Academy. It is finally nearing completion. (Submitted by Laura Forrester - image credit)
Laura Forrester has spent around 10 weeks working on this mural at Hanwell Park Academy. It is finally nearing completion. (Submitted by Laura Forrester - image credit)

Bright colours and smiling faces adorn a giant set of steps inside the Hanwell Park Academy, a new kindergarten to Grade 8 school about 15 kilometres southwest of Fredericton.

Artist Laura Forrester is putting the finishing touches on a mural that covers the front of the "learning stairs," as they are called, in the cafeteria space.

This project was unique for Forrester, because most of the murals she has done have been on flat surfaces, whereas this one had her lying down or crouching in an awkward position while painting.

She said her canvas this time was actually a series of risers around 61 centimetres high (24 inches) and around six to seven and a half metres wide (20-25 feet).

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

Principal Pierre Plourde said the "learning stairs" are used for all kinds of things, such as presentations, projects and even as a spot for students to work.

He hopes the painting will spark creativity in the children who attend the school, which opened last September..

"I think it creates pride," said Plourde about the mural.

"Prior to the painting being there, [the stairs] were a greyish colour. I think that's what they were going to stay if somebody didn't take it and make it a canvas."

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

Other murals are also planned for the school, said Plourde, including one that will represent First Nations communities.

But Plourde said one of the most unique features of the school is the connection with nature. The school is situated next to a trail, he said, where students can snowshoe and teachers sometimes hold classes.

And it's that connection to nature Forrester tried to capture in her painting.

Some elements pay homage to nearby landmarks such as the Garden Creek Falls, which is around seven kilometres from the school, and spans the top four stairs in the mural.

And Forrester said she also had to keep in mind the work wasn't only going to be seen from a distance.

"I wanted to have elements that really kind of popped from far away, and I wanted to have things that you didn't really notice until you got up close," said Forrester.

Submitted by Laura Forrester
Submitted by Laura Forrester

Since there are nine stairs and nine grades in the school, the children painted on these surfaces grow as the stairs ascend.

Forrester said she's put about 200 hours into the mural so far, including the time needed to prepare a concept sketch and do a full-colour concept for client approval.

"There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work that you don't see before any paint even hits the wall," she said.

Unique challenges 

This mural came with a different set of challenges for the Fredericton artist. Because of the way she had to position herself during the painting process, she found she could only work four to five hours at a time, which stretched the process over around 10 weeks.

Forrester painted during school hours, so there were often students shuffling by and commenting on the artwork.

She said she would sometimes turn the volume down on her headphones to listen to what they were saying.

Her favourite comments were when students would look at the painting and tell their friends, "Hey, that looks like you."

"That was really my goal," said Forrester.

"I wanted the kids to have somewhere in the school where they can come and hang out and relax and really see themselves and their experience represented."