Every time Lara Edwards, who just graduated with her biological sciences degree, takes on a new art project, she makes sure to include an element that she has never tried before. So, when she agreed to paint a mural in the Leola Millar Children’s Library in the Rolla Public Library as part of her Art in the Community class last summer, Edwards fulfilled that requirement. It was the largest project she had ever taken on and the only mural that earned her college credit.
Dick Miller, former chair of arts, languages and philosophy at Missouri S&T, suggested the location for the mural. Last summer, the library approved plans for the mural and Luce Myers, lecturer in arts, languages and philosophy, offered her first Art in the Community class. Edwards signed up for the class and worked on the mural with another student, Michael Crabtree.
Edwards and Crabtree wasted no time getting started. On their very first trip to the library, Crabtree began measuring the walls, doors and windows to convert the space into a grid. The measurements were used to make a scale drawing of the space on paper with one square equaling a certain number of inches on the wall. While Crabtree worked on the grid, Edwards designed characters and planned the color scheme.
Crabtree drew a landscape he wanted to include in the mural on a non-exact diagram of the walls. “I positioned my characters within and in front of this landscape and added details to Michael’s sketch until this became the final mural design,” Edwards says.
After drawing the final design on the gridded scale, it was traced onto transparency sheets to be projected onto the wall. “The gridding part was important because it ensured that the transparencies would all be to the same scale and would match up with the room’s doors and window frames,” Edwards says.
After tracing all of the designs on the wall in pencil, it was time to begin painting. Edwards says the content of the mural at that point was not subject to much change, but the color scheme was flexible and often changed. “I designed the whole thing to be daytime, but while we were painting, Michael said he thought we should include night scenes,” she says. “So we picked one scene to be nighttime; this decision didn’t change the characters or landscape in that area, but it changed the color scheme a lot.”
At the end of the class in August, the mural was still not complete, so Edwards continued to work on it into the fall semester, in two-hour sittings between classes and studying. What started as an estimated 40-hour project turned into more than 100 hours of work from Edwards alone.
As she chipped away on the mural, the children who visited the library while she was working were mesmerized. On occasion, Edwards added things to the mural to make the children happy. “One kid was excited because he thought I was painting a penguin and when he realized it was an owl, he was disappointed. So the next day, I painted a penguin on the wall for him,” she says.
After winter break, the Rolla, Mo., native had completed the mural, which includes an outer-space scene, a jungle, nighttime in the desert and more. “Most people don’t realize what it takes to put together a composition in a space that’s broken up by doorways,” Myers says. “This is the kind of work someone does for part of a master’s degree in art.”
For Edwards, the impact goes beyond the college credit and pride in completing such a large work. “People could tell me with words what an impact it would make, but none of that could compare to actually seeing the effect and realizing that kids will look at it and see it for years,” she says.
This is not the first time that Edwards’ art has impacted her community. By the time she was 15, she had completed murals in two Sunday school classrooms at the First United Methodist Church in Rolla and was working on a third.
In her free time, Edwards enjoys being with her family, taking care of her family’s pets and drawing comics. She is also a peer tutor at the campus Writing Center.
Edwards and Myers displayed her comic about endangered cheetahs in the Havener Center this spring. “When you find a student who has this kind of vibrating gem inside them, it’s so exciting and you don’t want it to go unnoticed,” Myers says. “You don’t want to miss the opportunity to shine a light on them.”
By Arielle Bodine