RHS senior’s mural combines values of art and social studies

Sandy Carpenter  stands with AP US History teacher Jenn DeJulio in front of the mural she painted last spring in the history wing of Ridgefield High School. Ms. Carpenter, a senior, has taken AP Art the last two years and has painted several murals around the school. —Steve Coulter photo

Sandy Carpenter stands with AP US History teacher Jenn DeJulio in front of the mural she painted last spring in the history wing of Ridgefield High School. Ms. Carpenter, a senior, has taken AP Art the last two years and has painted several murals around the school. —Steve Coulter photo

In the many halls of history, there are events, symbols and people who teach the enduring and inspirational lesson that the past is an invaluable part of understanding the present and making progress toward a better future.

And now, in the hallway of Ridgefield High School’s history wing, a mural echoes that same essential message, connecting art and social studies — two seemingly distant subjects — under the same belief that everyone can take away something from the past and recreate it.

Thanks to the hard work of senior Sandy Carpenter, future RHS students will have the beckoning symbol as motivation to dream of the impossible and make it happen.

“We basically talked about things we both loved from American history,” said Ms. Carpenter, who worked with her Advanced Placement History teacher, Jenn DeJulio, on crafting the mural.

The painting consists of several images — a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and another of Rosie the Riveter, the Statue of Liberty, the United State’s Constitution, the New York City skyline and an eagle, soaring overhead.

Also included are symbolic numbers — 13 and 19 — for the 13th and 19th amendments of the constitution.

“The 19th amendment, which ended woman’s suffrage, and is located closest to Rosie the Riveter and the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, and is located closest to Lincoln,” she explains.

Ms. Carpenter started working on the mural on May 16, a day after she took her AP History exam — on which she scored a perfect five.

“I’d like to think I’m pretty good at history,” she said.

“She’s one of the best history students I’ve ever had,” Ms. DeJulio chimes in.

Ms. Carpenter finished the project on June 24 after working on and off on it for over a month, dedicating sometimes as much as six hours a week on the painting process.

She used regular acrylic brushes and swears she’s not “one of those snobby art people who has to have best brush possible.”

The most time-consuming part of the sketching and coloring was taking out and putting away the paint, she said.

P1-RHS-Mural-1-CThe mural began with pencil sketch that Ms. Carpenter showed to her AP art teacher, Anne Lester, and worked her way to doing a watercolor before finally painting in the images she had selected.

“Ms. Lester felt it was going to be too complicated so I took out an emblem with an eagle on it that was pretty big and made it smaller and put it on Rosie’s collar,” she explained. “I had a full American flag and took that out.

“Basically, I made it more simple and got rid of the stuff that would have required more time to finish.”

The final part of her design was selecting a quote that would run along the bottom — a message that would encapsulate the broadness of both art and history.

She turned to the head of the history department, Larry Freidman, for help.

“I was thinking an Abraham Lincoln quote but he wanted something that better characterized the social studies and gender issues; something that captured the innovation and creativeness that brings art and history together,” she said.

The pair ended up going with a famous Robert F. Kennedy phrase: “Some men see things as they are and say ‘why.’ I dream things that never were and say ‘why not.’”

“It’s the epitome of what art is and also, when you look at history — everything that could happen and everything that has happened — you see past, present and future in there,” she explains. “I dream of things that could be and I make them happen — it’s really a beautiful quote.”

Ms. DeJulio adds that the quote symbolizes “the purpose of why teach history.”

The mural wasn’t the first for Ms. Carpenter, who’s been an active artist since kindergarten and first started painting around the fifth grade.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, I can’t remember when I started,” she claims.

She designed and colored the painting that’s in the school’s athletic training room and has been asked to do other decorations in the weight room and other parts of the athletic complex.

Ms. Carpenter, who plays varsity soccer, basketball, and lacrosse for the Tigers, said she was excited when Ms. DeJulio approached her last spring about bringing her talents to the school’s history wing.

“I finally have one in the hallway that everyone can see, which is great,” she said.

If the drawing and the sports weren’t enough, Ms. Carpenter spends her time working in five AP classes — government and politics, literature and composition, Spanish, art, and calculus.

“I get a solid seven and a half hours,” she says about her sleep schedule.

Although art and history are the focus of her most-seen mural to date, Ms. Carpenter’s favorite subject is actually biology, which she has applied it to her artwork and hopes to study next year at college.

“I love AP art because we get to do a concentration, which is like picking your own area to focus on, about something you’re really passionate about,” she said. “Last year I combined art and biology and this year my concentration is on the woman as a goddess.”

She is studying Greek mythology — honing her skills history, English and philosophy — while incorporating them into “art nouveau” and also how they relate to women’s issues today.

“I like to do things in art that I am passionate about outside of art,” she concludes. “Hopefully, I can do murals as my internship in the spring.”

But what about free time?

There’s not much of it these days, in the middle of the grueling college application process but she’s still somehow got enough to draw and to get those crucial seven and a half hours of sleep, all despite taking five AP courses and playing three varsity sports.

“Art has always been something I’ve done on the side, in addition to soccer, basketball and school” she explains of her free time, if you can call it that. “I also like dogs, taking walks in nature and writing.”

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