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"Morse School Mural"

Arai, Tomie

Central Square/Cambridgeport, Mural


Morse School

Title: Morse School Mural
Date: 1999
Materials: Acrylic on birch
Dimensions: 8' x 16'


Seeing and experiencing

When Tomie Arai was commissioned to make this mural for the Morse School, she worked closely with the school's staff and parents to decide what it should include. The result is a wonderful tapestry of landscapes, people and animals. Created from silk-screened photographs, it celebrates the school's history and its community. It also tells us the larger story of the city of Cambridge and the Charles River.


When artists tell a story, they make careful decisions about what details they will include. What has Arai chosen to show? What could she have included but did not?


One of the mural's main themes is diversity. Look at the cloth patterns at the bottom. Each one represents a different ethnic culture. What else suggests diversity? Why do you think Arai has put plants and animals in a picture about a school?


Arai's vision of a harmonious world is expressed through the balanced composition of the mural. The brick building on the left is the old Morse School. How else has the artist shown different time periods?


The central image is a tree, a symbol for the school's curriculum. Why has the artist shown us the roots of the tree?


How would you describe the world that Arai has pictured? What inspiration might this work offer to the students who attend the Morse School?


If you are viewing this with someone else play "I Spy." Choose something in the picture and challenge your friend to guess what it is.


If you are more adventurous, you and your viewing companion can each write three sentences about the piece. Then trade sentences. Study one of your friend's lines and create a movement for each word in the sentence. For instance, for "The tree is in the middle," you would create a separate gesture for "the," "tree," "is," etc. Put your movements together and perform the sentence as a dance.


What you will need: Styrofoam tray, piece of Plexiglas, or cookie sheet; water-based printing ink or tempera paint; a brayer (roller); paper; simple tools for making marks; ballpoint pen.


Arai explores the printmaking technique of silkscreen in her mural. There are many ways to make prints. To make a simple monoprint, roll your ink onto the tray or cookie sheet. Place a piece of paper on top of the ink. Draw an image on the paper as it sits in the tray. If you choose to add words be sure to write them in reverse. Improvise with tools to make different marks: a fork, a crayon, a sharp pencil, a spoon, etc. Now lift up the paper and look at the back.


Try another kind of printmaking. Draw an image into a Styrofoam tray. Press hard (a ballpoint pen works well). Now, ink the surface of the tray with a roller. Once you have evenly covered the surface with ink place a piece of paper on top and rub with the back of a wooden spoon or your hand. Lift up the paper to see your image. What happens when you roll one color on top of the other? Experiment with different tools and the marks they make.

In depth

What you will need: Old magazines, scissors.


When some artists start a project they "brainstorm ideas" by collecting images: photographs, newspaper clippings, magazines, sketches - anything that interests them.


Make your own image collection. Pick up one of your magazines, stack a few pages together, and cut out a 3" x 3" square. You'll get several random images this way. Once you have collected 20 squares or so, go to a photocopier and copy your images. Blow them up in size or shrink them. Combine your photocopied images with your drawings to create a story.