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SCHOOL DAYS : The Great Wall of Pasadena

September 05, 1993|Maria Iacobo

For art teacher Bill Yoon, the halls of academe seemed pretty grim. The corridors of Pasadena's Woodrow Wilson Middle School were characterless--a bureaucratic tan--and graffiti-riddled. But he didn't settle for a new coat of paint; he found a way to illuminate art history while giving his advanced students a chance to work with a professional artist.

"I was looking for a positive way for the kids to decorate the school," says Yoon. "Tagging is an increasing problem throughout Los Angeles, and I thought that if the kids took enough pride in their own work, they wouldn't deface it."

Yoon called on Emanuel (Manny) Cosentino, a local painter whose work is heavily influenced by the Venetian masters of the late Renaissance. Cosentino's assignment: find a way to brighten the school's environment, beginning with a 70-foot-long wall inside the school's main building.

After a month of planning, Cosentino decided to begin with half of the wall and designed a 35-foot mural depicting the evolution of art from cave paintings to the Renaissance. The project integrates styles and icons from Africa, ancient Egypt, India, China, Japan, Greece and Italy.

Cosentino primed the wall with a deep terra-cotta color, added a grid with white chalk and sketched out the full mural. Then, for five days a week for nearly three months, he oversaw the project as 25 eighth-graders brought the work to life. "The image just came out of the wall," he says.

The mural was finished in late April and has remained graffiti-free. "I'd like to get to the point where we can paint the whole school," says Yoon.

Work on the second half of the mural, which depicts art styles from the Renaissance up to the present, will begin when school starts this month. "If more of this could be done at an early age," Cosentino says, "their artistic talents and energy could be channeled in a positive way instead of the tagging wars going on now."

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