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Learning Through Art

Hamilton Early Learning Center first-graders make additions to a mural Tuesday on an exterior wall of the Midwest Broadcasting building on State Street. The students worked under the guidance of the mural's creator, Annie Morris of La Crosse, on the field trip.

A group of Hamilton Elementary School first-graders spent Tuesday morning getting their Jackson Pollock on, splattering, swooshing and smudging a dozen vivid colors on a sprawling brick wall.

The children were given free range to embellish the mural by artist Annie Morris, which features an oversize black-and-white image of a woman’s face, her hand to her ear, with a cascade of colors swooping across the side of the Midwest Family Broadcasting building. Morris began work on the 24-foot-by-77-foot, 1,800-square-foot painting last week after proposing the concept to Dick Record in September.

“I considered the shape of the building, where it sits in its environment and what the purpose of that building is, which is radio. It’s a nod to listening,” said Morris, who envisioned youth participation in the project. “I wanted to have a very stimulating and colorful design to really draw people in from a distance. ... Dick was gracious to let me explore my creativity.”

Hamilton kids help with mural

Jackson Stone, 6, a first-grade student at Hamilton Early Learning Center, smears paint on a mural outside the Midwest Broadcasting building on State Street.

The Ohio native, 43, whose family relocated to the Coulee Region when her husband opened La Crosse Distilling Co., had heard through a friend that Record was looking to embellish his building on Second Street and decided to “creep around and study the walls.”

Mike Wettstein, an employee at the neighboring Industrial Automation building, noticed Morris in the parking lot and learned she was new to the city and looking for a group of kids to contribute to her public art endeavor. Wettstein connected her with his wife, Barb, a first-grade teacher at Hamilton. The 19 students — and their parents — were immediately on board.

“It’s something they can bring their families to for years to come,” Barb said. “It’s really neat for the kids to be involved in something so big. It really ties into our learning about community helpers, so how fitting they get to do something so memorable for the community.”

Morris visited the classroom last week to introduce the students to the work of Pollock, an abstract expressionist painter know for his drip-action method. The style is less intimidating to budding artists, Morris said, and helps them realize they can create beauty without formal training.

The mural, which is being privately funded by Record and Midwest F

amily Broadcasting, with donated exterior paint and the use of a lift, has drawn the awe of Blake Schirman of 95.7 the Rock, headquartered in the building. His daughter Rowan, 6, was among the kids lending their creativity Tuesday morning.

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“I was really excited when I found out about it, and when I heard Rowan was going to help, (that was) even better,” Schirman said. “This is beautiful — it’s got lots of color.”

Rowan was itching to add a touch of orange to the bricks, while 6-year-old Jackson Stone went for the blue, dipping his rubber glove in the paint can and opting for a full palm motion to distribute the color. Others added handprints, speckles from a shaken brush and waves.

“This whole part of this wall is your mural,” Morris said. “I’m giving it to you so you can do whatever you want.”

Morris hopes to complete her portion of the mural, the right hand side, by this weekend, weather permitting. Her kids, Jack, 13, and Vinny, 11, have lent a hand, and Morris says the project is a true community collaboration, noting the Wettstein’s, Record and Midwest Family Broadcasting have been “amazing” in helping see her vision to fruition. She hopes the art will spark a conversation about engaging youth in community arts, and to partner with other businesses and schools in the future to create more large-scale works. Schirman is ready to see it happen.

“I want to see more of these go up,” Schirman said. “I want to see them all over town.”


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Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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General assignment reporter

Emily Pyrek covers health, human interest stories and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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