When staff at Tower Rock Elementary School realized they had a little extra cash to use, thanks to a fellowship earned by one of its teachers, they decided to earmark it for something the school would otherwise never get the chance to do.
Principal Kelly Petrowski noticed they had a large, blank wall in the K-2 breakout space that could use some color.
“With that we dreamed up an idea to get a local artist to create something for us that would combine our emphasis on agriculture and school common area expectations,” Petrowski said.
That idea resulted in a colorful, three-dimensional wall mural featuring a barn, students, a host of critters and words emphasizing the school’s culture of safety, kindness and responsibility.
The 16x7 foot mural was designed across four panels by local resident Jennifer Niles, owner of JenGraph Designs, who does freelance design work for various community businesses and non-profit organizations.
Bringing Niles into the equation was purposeful, Petrowski said, because of her unique history with the Sauk Prairie School District.
Niles attended Black Hawk Elementary School for fourth grade, as well as Madison Street School and Sauk Prairie Middle School, before eventually graduating from Sauk Prairie High School. Her two sons attended Tower Rock Elementary as well.
While in the Sauk Prairie School District, Niles received numerous awards for her artwork, including a Spellman Monument Art Scholarship upon graduation. She later took classes from Madison Area Technical College in printing and Publishing and had on-the-job training for desktop publishing. She continued to hone her talents as a graphic artist in a variety of positions over the years before starting her own business in 1997.
“Kelly contacted me to commission the Tower Rockers mural project after being referred by Carol Patterson, who taught my boys while they attended Black Hawk and Tower Rock schools,” Niles said. “We talked about the words they wanted to see in the mural and concept and ideas for what could go with it.”
While the school first envisioned the mural would be painted directly on the wall, Niles convinced them doing it on wood panels would make it portable. This would make it moveable if the need ever arose.
The mural consists of four 4x7 wood panels. Niles used a variety of mediums including acrylic paint, texture compound, barn and fence wood, and metal. The words feature individual textured letters with various wildlife animals seen around the rural school area. It also has elements of stencil.
“The pieces just fell together for this art piece to happen,” Petrowski said. “Jen is an amazing artist. She helped us create the story of Tower Rock in it.”
With the money they had earmarked for a special project, Petrowski said they ended up paying Niles only a portion of what the overall cost was to make it. In addition, Niles donated $1,623 worth of her time, talent and the materials to the district needed to complete the mural.
For Niles, the best part of the mural project was getting to some and talk to the students about how she created the mural.
“To see them really excited about the mural made it all worthwhile,” Niles said. “I am hoping they are as inspired as I was as a child to create art for the community that will be there in years to come.”