C.S. Poppenga
Artist in Residence
Wheeler High School - Fossil, Oregon
In April 2005, I was an Artist-in-Residence for one week at Wheeler High School in the rural community of Fossil, located near the John Day Fossil Beds and Painted Hills of Oregon.

A core group of 12 students participated in the mural project. The mural theme was directly related to the geology and fossil records of the surrounding landscape. The main mural was painted on an exterior wall at the front of the school building.

An overall composition provided for a background to illustrate the various geologic/fossil strata of the local landscape. Each strata band was given a size to indicate it's actual relative size with regard to the other strata layers. Thus the John Day Group was the largest (widest) band of color.

As with all my residencies, I placed as few marks as possible so that the final result is, as much as possible, the students' work.  Wheeler High School, as most Oregon schools, operates on a four-day week. Although this mural (and the second small mural) was accomplished in just three days (the first day of the residency was introductory lecture), I would not recommend this approach for most schools. Wheeler High School presented an unusual situation in that the week of my residency was also "Painting Day" at the school---all the students were present but classes were not in session. Instead, students, along with teachers and staff, scrubbed and painted the interior of their school over two days out of the four-day week. Those students involved with the mural project were thus able to work the entire day on the mural with no interruption.
Day Two of the residency, but Day One of the actual painting work. Students are using the same commercial-grade high-pigment content oil-based paints that I use when I create commissioned murals.. When possible, I provide these paints and the brushes at low or no cost for chools wanting murals on exterior walls.
BELOW: CLICK on the IMAGES BELOW for larger view of some of the details from the mural.
Tell a friend about this page
email me
Day Two of the painting process. Students cut stencils for lettering the various geologic strata. Here, a student transfers lettering to be painted.
Day Two of the painting process. Scaffolding was set up for students to reach the highest areas of the mural.

I stress safety first and make it clear that any students conducting themselves in an unsafe manner on equipment is taken off the project.
All the students at Wheeler High were mature, responsible, and focused on the project.

Nearing the end of Day Two of the painting process.
Mural at the end of Day Two of the painting process.

The black and gold bands at both ends of the mural are representative of the school's colors.

The landscape across the top represents the present day, from the Painted Hills on the left and, moving to the right, the hills visible from the school.
Evolution of the horse's hoove.
Fossil maple seed - John Day Group strata
Fossil metasequoia - John Day Group strata
Fossil oak leaf - John Day Group strata
Projectile point -
Recent strata
Projectile point -
Recent strata
Projectile point, rock art -
Recent strata
Rock art  based on actual petraglyphs in the local area -
Recent strata
Sabretooth - John Day Group
Sabretooth  skull
Woolly Mammouth - John Day Group
The main mural is completed --- actually it is at a "good stopping point." The week is done, time's run out, but the mural is complete enough to stand as is.  However, it is also designed to allow for future imagery additions if students want to add more to it. Besides more images, students may also decide to add period names (Miocene, Oligocene, etc.) for the appropriate strata layers. The black and gold bands at either end were created to hold the period names if added later.
On the third (and last) day of painting
there was time for an additional mini-mural of the school's mascot, the falcon, to be painted on a small wing wall near the main mural.
For the students of Wheeler visiting this page, they may click on the thumbnail. Since my general policy is to not show direct (face front) photos of students on the web site, I've put a password on the two photos below.   Wheeler students may obtain the password from their principal (I've emailed it to him.) The third photo of the moon at sunrise I took from the parking lot of the high school at about 6 a.m.
Turtle -
John Day Group