BENTONVILLE -- Sunlight filtered into the Great Hall at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Saturday as students gathered in front of their murals, adding the finishing touches.
Family, friends and art fans moved though the packed room, stopping to admire the projects, talk and snap photos.
The event was part of the museum's "Diego Rivera's America" exhibit. To coincide with the opening, Crystal Bridges invited Northwest Arkansas art educators and their students to participate by painting murals in Rivera's style, said Lori West, fine arts teacher at Tyson Middle School in Springdale.
Rivera's paintings focused on the human experience for families and workers, good times, bad times, struggles and dreams, according to the Crystal Bridges website. Between the 1920s and '40s, he worked in Mexico and the U.S. and was inspired by the cultures of both, the website states.
"We couldn't have an exhibition of Diego Rivera's work without involving the public," said Amanda Horn, senior public relations director at Crystal Bridges. "It's about access."
West's seventh-graders created a three-panel, 4-by-8 piece, "The Diversity of Helen Tyson Middle School." The middle section features a book shelf with the names of countries and cities that represent the students, along with flags. There are other items important to the young artists, including a papier-mache canoe to represent Marshallese students.
"I think that it's all about diversity," said student Yazmin Cassity, who named the mural. "We're all different. You want to paint something that has feeling and emotion. Incorporate something personal."
There was a tight deadline to have the murals nearly complete, with the final brushstrokes to be applied in the Great Hall. West said the students' undertaking started Feb. 24. Progress was slowed by snow days, but the project was essentially wrapped up Friday, West said.
"It was really hard," Yazmin said. "It was really stressful. But seeing the outcome is all worth it. It was fun because we all had to work on different parts."
West broke her students into groups for various aspects of the project, including research on Rivera himself.
"The research helped us understand where he's coming from," Yazmin said. "The thing I learned the most is that everybody's different. You don't know everybody's background."
West said she wants them to remember their work was on exhibit among the legends at Crystal Bridges.
"I could not have chosen a crew that could handle a massive project like this any better," West said. "They exceeded my greatest expectations."
Nine other schools participated -- Alma Middle School, Arkansas Arts Academy, Eastside Elementary in Rogers, Springdale's Har-Ber High School, Haas Hall Academy of Fayetteville and Springdale, Huntsville High School, Lincoln Junior High of Bentonville and Ramay Junior High in Fayetteville.
It was a mix of public, private and charter schools representing a variety of ages -- elementary, middle, junior and high school, Horn said.
The works will be on display at Crystal Bridges through March 26. Starting in mid-April and going through July 31, the paintings will be moved to five locations for pop-up exhibitions, Horn said -- The Jones Center in Springdale, Rogers City Hall, the Rogers Experimental House, the Siloam Springs Public Library and the Fayetteville Public Library.
Across from the Tyson Middle School project stood a mural from Eastside Elementary with "All Belong" emblazoned in large letters across the top. Seven people -- male and female and of different races -- are depicted across the middle of the mural. The background features mountains, water and bridges. It was created by kindergarten through fifth grade students at Eastside as part of an after-school enrichment program, art teacher Steven Wise said.
"It was a lot of fun," Wise said. "They learned a lot."
They spent 2½ hours on Wednesdays working on it, and the mural was left in the classroom so other students could see it and share suggestions.
"They did really well," Wise said of his team of 20. "I had to help with the drawing. They wanted to paint all of it."
Diego Rivera's America
The exhibit will be on display until July 31 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Exhibit tickets are $12 for adults. Members, SNAP participants, veterans, and youth 18 and younger get in free.
Source: Crystal Bridges