Education

First Impressionism

With a multimedia trick, the Wheeler School’s second mural comes to life

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The name “Claude Monet” conjures images of corsets and parasols, summer days and leafy parks. His impressionist portraits are so emblematic of the belle époque, some fans are startled to learn that the artist lived until 1926 – and there are actual films of him painting.

Before you run to YouTube and search for this silent footage, first visit the brand-new mural at 82 Fones Alley, a slim backstreet just off Thayer. The mural, depicting a lush water garden, is based on an archival film of Monet painting in 1915. If you want to see the French master at work, the mural has a special QR code; using your smartphone, the code will lead you to the historic video on your browser.

The new mural was created by a corps of artists from The Wheeler School, including current students, past alumni, and teachers from the Visual Arts Department. Support came from the Thayer Street District Management Authority, Shake Shack, and E.F. Bishop Agency.

“For the basis of our mural, we chose a panoramic view of Monet’s water garden taken from actual motion picture footage of Monet at work in 1915,” said Bob Martin, department head. “Having painted a Monet-inspired landscape in their classes last spring, students from Kindergarten and Lower School were ready, willing, and able to begin work on the lower portion of the mural. High school-aged students from our Studio Arts program added more landscape details, while two Wheeler seniors, Delaney Foss and Chloe Guo, contributed to the finish work on the figure of Monet and the water lilies.”

The painting has a personal connection to the school’s founder, Mary C. Wheeler, who studied painting in France and took residence in the town of Giverny. Incredibly, her neighbor was Claude Monet, with whom she had a friendly relationship. The new mural is an homage to Wheeler and the famous man next door; painted in the Impressionist style, it shows a pond, bridge, rich vegetation, and the heavily bearded Monet standing by his easel. But instead of a canvas, the rectangle has been replaced with a mirror, inviting passersby to see themselves in the scene and – naturally – take a picture.

“This type of creative undertaking engages our students as members of the neighborhood to create something that the nearby college and university communities, visitors, and the whole City of Providence can enjoy,” said Wheeler School Head Allison Gaines Pell. “The hours of work to research, design, and then create these new community landmarks on Thayer Street is part of our academic mission to have students ‘learn their powers and be answerable for their use.’ We are delighted that Wheeler is able to add to the vibrant landscape of Thayer Street in a way that is both educational and joyful.”