Fourteen years ago, Ellen Griesedieck began painting American workers on a scale that was larger than life. Her goal was to highlight the people whose work around the country goes unnoticed. The end product will be a mural nearly 50ft tall and 125ft long.
Griesedieck was determined to draw attention to the workers of America, and she said to herself, "I'm going to make something so big no one can miss it. That's the basic start."
The project, first named The Wall of America, is now called The American Mural Project and with the years, it has grown to include work by a cross-section of people across the country. The most important participants to Griesedieck, however, are the children whose artwork is now an integral part of the mural.
"There's something missing in the way we see ourselves," says Griesedieck, "and that missing part is causing us not to be as powerful as we could be as a country because we don't stand up proudly and say this is who we are anymore. We've kind of forgotten that, especially younger people."
Including work by children across the country in the mural was the perfect way to truly make the mural an American project, and it would expose children to the world of art in a way that they'd never imagined.
With one unique project to be created in each of the fifty states, the mural itself will include glass pieces, ceramic tiles, and even marble.
"Something that started simply as a tribute to people who work in this country has morphed into something that involves thousands of kids in tribute to people who work," says Griesedieck, "but also with the idea that these kids are looking forward to what they're going to do when they're working, that's the idea. You give them incentive through the projects we do."
Griesedieck wanted to encourage children across the country to pay attention to the world around them and to understand that there are opportunities for jobs in places they might never have considered.
"What we are doing on these projects is absolutely the way kids learn. The problem solving that we do together, the mentorship because each state project has someone who is exemplary in what they do, whether it's with the environment or health and fitness or whatever, they're all part of that web."
Whether the impression left on the child is about their ability to create art or about the history and science they've learnt while working on the project, there's no doubt that it can encourage them to see themselves and the world in a different way.
Sabrina and James, aged 9 and 10, are two of the children who are working on the Connecticut project for the mural, and both were excited about the opportunities the project had given them.
Sabrina explains that the artwork was fun because "You can just do whatever you want and you can be as creative as you want. You can just draw anything, paint anything, there's so much to do with art."
For James, it was the scale of the project, and his part in it that was awe-inspiring. "I think this is more important because it's going to be something bigger than just an art project that's put in a school ... When I'm older, I'd like to show my kids, 'I made this.'"
The children's art teacher, Kathy Reddy, who has been an integral part of the Connecticut state project emphasizes the excitement that surrounds the artwork and project: "They feel like the importance of what their artwork is and I think also the permanence of something and being able to bring their families and relay their story, it's like a, it's almost like a quilt, a storytelling quilt where they can bring their family and tell the story of their generation."
Griesedieck was determined that whatever the project they wanted to create with the children and whatever the material they wished to use, the limitations would be almost nonexistent.
"I wanted to keep it open, it's an art project so you don't want to ever say 'we can't use that, we can't do that.' The whole idea is to say there are no limits, nothing is impossible, let's try it. So if a given project says, 'we need to do this in marble', let's do it in marble, we'll figure out how we're going to install that."
"There is no limit to the materials that have been used on the project so far. In 14 years, I think we've used copper, steel, aluminum, fabric, ceramic tiles, everything. There is no 'no'."
Once assembled, the mural itself will be displayed in an old mill in Winsted, Connecticut. With two buildings that lie side by side, the area is the perfect place to create a visitor center to accompany the mural.
Griesedieck explains that, "The two warehouse buildings in Winsted right now are just square box buildings and they have a driveway going through them. What we're going to do is we're going to take the roof on the mural building, what we call the [front] building and it's going to go up, it's going to double in size when we take that roof up 30ft."
For the mural to fit, it will require a lot of space and lot of careful engineering to hold up all of the distinct, and sometimes heavy, pieces of the wall. "The mural is going to be viewable on three different levels," explains Griesedieck, "And you can go behind the mural to see how this thing has been engineered to hold up marble, steel, 47 ft of blown glass, ceramic, tons of ceramic tile."
"The interior space is going to be as big as the Parthenon. The second building will be our visitor center and the two buildings will be joined by a glass arcade."
The visitor center will be an important part of the experience for visitors. Griesedieck's goal is to encourage people to feel their own sense of creativity. After visiting the mural there will be the chance for people to explore that creativity by painting a t-shirt or some ceramic tiles in the visitor center.
Griesedieck is hoping to have the remaining state projects completed in the next eight years so that the work can begin on the feat of engineering that will be the mural's assembly. There is no doubt the project is one of great ambition and energy.
"So you've got the world's largest collaborative mural that is being created in 3 dimensions with all kinds of different materials, with kids in all 50 states, as a tribute to the American worker. With the added bonus that you're giving kids incentive along the way for their futures and what they want to do."
Until the mural's completion, however, the individual state projects that the American Mural Project is doing with children across the country are end products and achievements in their own rights. "They have had that experience and they have done the one thing that could for certain numbers of these kids, open up worlds for them for their future, it's that kind of spark."
Knowing that not all the children will become artists, Griesedieck still knows that the work they do will change their perspective. "What is going to happen is they're going to realize that they can do something, that they're capable of doing something and that can lead God knows to what direction where, but that is a huge, huge thing."
"I want every kid that works on this to come out of it having said, 'I contributed something of value.'"
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