Mural has new home at Whetstone
by D. Gill Sperlein
The Montgomery Village News, Nov. 30, 1990

Christmas came early to Whetstone Elementary School this year. But, on the morning of Friday, Nov. 16, it was workmen who delivered three 500-poundcrates, not elves in a reindeer-pulled sleigh. By the end of the day three separate panels of a large mural were unpacked and mounted together on a large brick wall in the entrance hall of the school.

And what a beautiful present it was. The mural represents an aerial view of the nation's capital and surrounding suburbs, including Montgomery Village.

Artist Nancy McCroskey was commissioned to create the work by a committee consisting of members of Whetstone's faculty and parents of students. The committee advertised for proposals nationally, and reviewed many different proposals, before deciding to commission McCroskey. While overseeing the installation - of the mural, McCroskey explained that when she creates art for a community, she wants it to be something they can enjoy. "I think artists commissioned to create art for public places have a responsibility to think about the community the art is going to serve," she said.

McCroskey comes from Seattle, a city with a reputation for encouraging and funding public art, but she became familiar with this area of the country while attending the Maryland School of Art in Baltimore. She now works and teaches at Indiana University, but flew in just for the hanging of her work and the reception that followed.

It was an exciting day. Parents and faculty members watched as the three panels became one on the wall before them. Perhaps McCroskey could have used a little less excitement. When one of the panels slipped a bit and risked falling to the ground, her face turned more colors then the tiles of the mural.

The completed work, which is about six feet high and fifteen feet long, started as one large piece of clay. Working from aerial -photographs, road maps, and a small scale model, McCroskey cut the clay into the various shaped tiles which represent waterways, buildings, and fields of the Washington metropolitan area. The space left between the curved cuts of the tiles represent roadways.

To add more dimension to the work, McCroskey added clay to build-up some of the tiles, and carved away at others. One of the easiest landmarks to identify is a small white dome representing the Jefferson memorial. It is located within a group of mostly white tiles which form a recognizable square tilted on its side with a series of brightly colored blue tiles curving into it – Washington D.C. severed by the Potomac River.

The suburban landscape is more abstract. In many places oval shaped leaves have been formed along the twisting high ways to form a vine-like image, representing the more natural landscape of the suburbs. By contrast, the shapes in and near the city are more geometrical.

McCroskey explains that the tiles represent not only the physical landscape, but the cultural landscape as well. She adapted one pattern from the complex metallic lines of computer PC boards. They represent the lines of information and technology extending from the District to the suburbs.

The mural is perfect for a school. Unlike most museum art, the tiles are okay to touch. In fact, McCroskey encourages the students to do so.

The representations of Whetstone Elementary and Washington give the students some base of reality, something they can recognize while they increase their appreciation for the beauty of abstract art.

After the mural was successfully mounted in the entrance hall of the school, PTSA President Mary Beth Huber looked at it with pride and pleasure. "We wanted something timeless," she explained.

Students, teachers, parents, and visitors will enjoy this handsome work of art for years to come.

  ©2004 Nancy McCroskey
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