Tile Mural Mosaic Installed at JFK

Students at John F. Kennedy Elementary in East Islip had the chance this summer to contribute to the creation of a magnificent mosaic tile mural, to be permanently displayed in front of the school.

East Islip artist Kate Hanley’s “Be a Part of Art” schoolwide art project involved the construction of a large mosaic tile mural, aided by the creativity of the school’s students and totally funded through the generosity of local community members and businesses who donated time, manpower and materials.

Hundreds of 6-by-6-inch tiles, colored in vivid hues of light and cobalt blue, white, green, yellow and red, were painted by JFK art teacher Donna Bernard’s students when Hanley visited their classroom in June. Each child had the opportunity to create his or her own individual tile over the course of the week-long effort, assisted by Bernard and Hanley. Alita Tile of Bohemia donated over 500 tiles for the project, while the paint was provided by East Islip Paint.

“A wonderful collaboration took place between the PTA, Mrs. Bernard, the students and the entire faculty,” noted JFK Principal Aileen O’Rourke.

Hanley, an East Islip resident from the age of 9, has painted since she was a young girl, working in acrylic and ink. Her work has been featured in several local gallery shows. “The subject manner I mainly focus on is life around water,” she said. Self-taught, she worked as a painter for a local publication, “Great South Bay Magazine,” for over 10 years, creating the cover art for each monthly issue. Last October she left the magazine to concentrate on starting her own homeware collection, showcasing pillows, linens and prints of her artwork. “I am currently creating my own fabric using my paintings, which has been really exciting,” she said. Hanley also teaches painting to both children and adults at the Bay Shore YMCA.

The impetus for “Be a Part of Art” was Hanley’s belief in art as a positive creative force for community solidarity and inspiration. She said, “I always believe what you give is what you get back. Throughout the year I do a lot of donations of my work to local charities. In that vein, I feel that art should not be presented as lofty and abstract but accessible to everyone. I wanted to start something in the school that was inclusive, that reached and benefited all students and faculty alike and would draw attention to the arts from the community. Once I had the title, ‘Be a Part of Art,’ I needed a project – one that would not impact the school financially. For months I brainstormed and talked to people until I came up with the plan, which I presented to Principal O’Rourke and the PTA. I envisioned a project where each kid could create a piece of art of their own on tile, and we’d take all the tiles collectively and create a permanent outdoor art installment for the school.”

The next step after the students had finished their painting was constructing the impressive frame for the mural. Mike Dickson of Fire Island Contracting built the entire wood frame at his place of business and brought it over to the JFK site on July 24 to construct and secure it, assisted by Hanley’s husband Andrew of Blackfoot Painting.

On July 26, Hanley and JFK PTA Vice President Susan Kavanagh began breaking the tiles with hammers to obtain mosaic pieces and gluing the resulting tile chips into the mural framework, working from Hanley’s seascape design incorporating the ocean, sun, clouds, sailboats and – quintessentially emblematic of East Islip – a lighthouse. The two women and JFK student helpers (including Hanley’s daughters Lilly and Ginger, and Kavanagh’s sons Hunter and Spencer) completed the placement of the tile pieces on July 31, under sunny skies and in the enthusiastic presence of community members, local media and East Islip Superintendent of Schools John J. Finello.

In a final phase of the project, Andrew Hanley, aided by Dickson, sealed and grouted the tiles and stained the frame. The finished mosaic mural will be unveiled to the public in September. “The kids will get to see their piece become a beautiful mural,” said Kavanagh. “This is a great way to connect the students with the community.”

The emphasis on the mural being outdoors was both deliberate and meaningful for Hanley. She explained, “The reason is so that community members can drive by and actually see what they donated to. And to reflect this concept that art really can enhance all people and spaces, and hopefully have the idea spread and encourage other ideas of creativity to form.”

“‘Be a Part of Art’ is a rewarding project that the entire community will enjoy for years to come,” added O’Rourke.