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'Living nature' mural to welcome Sierra Vista students

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Artist Maggie Smith carefully sorts out the tiles for 'Naturaleza Viva' on the cafeteria floor of Sierra Vista Middle School. The Bainbridge Island artist was commissioned by the school district to create a tile mural that will be installed on a wall in the school's entry way.

A harvest of apples, cherries, grapes, corn, asparagus and hops is underway at Sierra Vista Middle School in Sunnyside in the form of a ceramic tile mural now under construction.

The mural features 8-inch square tiles that will form an art display measuring 12 feet by 12 feet to be featured on the large wall under the skylight directly facing the school's main entrance.

Principal Doug Rogers said teachers and a group of local citizens chose the mural design by Bainbridge Island artist Maggie Smith out of about 100 artwork proposals because it reflects local agriculture and the Hispanic culture.

Smith said the tile mural is intended to represent the Mexican tradition of building recesses into tile walls in which decorative plates are placed.

She calls the mural "Naturaleza Viva", a play on the Spanish term for "still life" inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The actual term in Spanish for a still life painting is translated "dead nature". Following Kahlo's cue, Smith is essentially dubbing her work "living nature".

Smith notes, "It's a living still life."

Smith has combined depictions of Lower Valley crops with Mexican ceramic tile traditions such as a zigzag design. She interprets a pre-columbian design around one of the "plates" or circles.

The mural includes local Sunnyside touches.

That's especially evident in the asparagus circle. Rogers said initially Smith was going to portray the crop as a single stalk of asparagus, but input from a local teacher prompted her to provide an artistic rendering of a bunch of asparagus tied together. The background of rolling hills in the asparagus plate, Smith said, is inspired from the scenery visible from Sierra Vista.

Smith, who has designed artwork for the Snohomish and Wenatchee school districts, said the Sierra Vista mural should be installed by this Wednesday or Thursday.

The art project comes with a price tag of $37,000 and is part of the Washington State Arts Commission's art in public places program, which requires all new public capital projects set aside a small portion of funds for public art.

Sierra Vista was built last year and Rogers said the mural is just now going up due to the process in deciding on an art project and, especially, because of the time needed to design and create each of the tiles. Smith confirmed that it took her about seven months to complete all of the mural tiles.

Rogers said the decision at Sierra Vista was to incorporate all of the art funds into one, highly visible project at the entryway rather than several smaller ones.

"We want our school to be welcoming to the parents and the community," Rogers said while admiring a layout of the mural. "This will be a striking display."

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