Salt Lake artist and students at St. Marguerite Catholic School recently unveiled a new mural.
At nine-foot high, 24-foot long, the mural covers an entire wall of the school’s lobby. The mosaic centers on artist Roger Whiting’s depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. All around Jesus are dozens of smaller images based on children’s drawings.
“It’s very impactful for us because we feel like it captures what we’re all about,” school principal Trisha Kirkbride said. “Especially since it’s all the children’s work surrounding Jesus.”
This is Kirkbride’s first year to serve as principal of St. Marguerite. She taught at the school for three years before the position became available.
When she was hired as principal, Kirkbride wanted to do something to give the school a fresh look. She arranged for the school to be painted over the summer and began a rebranding campaign.
“We decided we wanted to have a rebranding and everything, just to kind of identify us as a Catholic school,” she said. “We had this space (on the main wall) and we didn’t know what to put there, but we knew we wanted it to be something that captured our identity.”
Kirkbride’s first thought was the Sacred Heart of Jesus because the school’s patron saint is St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque, who had multiple visions of the Sacred Heart in the 17th century. A previous school project sparked the idea for a mural.
“(Previously,) our art teacher had the 8th grade students paint the Sacred Heart in the back,” Kirkbride said. “We couldn’t move the wall, but we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a mural?’”
Kirkbride had her heart set on a mosaic mural from the beginning, according to art teacher Caroline Kunimura.
“She and I discussed doing a mosaic … and I let her know it’s not my expertise,” Kunimura said. “I told her, ‘I don’t know if you’d want me putting tiles on the wall by myself.’ She found Roger (Whiting), I think through the internet, and he came out.”
Whiting’s passion for mosaic art, his vision for involving the students, and his ability to get along with them impressed Kunimura from the start.
“He’s fantastic with kids,” she said. “First, we had an assembly with the entire student body and he talked about how he started, how he was an artist as a child, how he then went to school for it and got jobs. They (the students) got to see that perspective of a working artist.”
In that assembly, Whiting also shared some of the history of mosaic art and a little about how it was done.
“I knew we were off to something great when he did his assembly,” Kunimura said.
After the assembly, Whiting became a regular visitor to the art classroom at St. Marguerite. At the same time he was working on the central mosaic of Jesus Christ, he guided students from kindergarten to 8th grade through their own mini mosaics.
“They each got to take home their own tile,” Kunimura said. “It was something that was very new for all of us. … Even I got to make my own little tile.”
Whiting put a lot of thought and research into his illustration of Jesus.
“The central Sacred Heart imagery of the mural was designed by me, based off of a combination of two 19th century Sacred Heart paintings, one from Spain and one from Portugal,” he said in an email interview.
The school administration purposefully didn’t provide Whiting a lot of direction, wanting the mural to develop naturally.
“He was so excited because as an artist, I think sometimes your ability to be creative is kind of taken away because people have something in mind,” Kirkbride said. “This was something he could really impart his direction to.”
The mural really began to take shape after the image of Jesus was completed. At Whiting’s request, Kunimura asked the students in each of her art classes to draw something that represented what St. Marguerite Catholic School meant to them.
“Some kids said ‘friends’, so we said, ‘Okay, draw you with your friends,’” she said. “One child drew two archangels all on his own. Another student drew a black sheep, there were doves … we started with a theme and let their imaginations run wild.”
At the end of the exercise, Kunimura gave Whiting 150 different drawings — approximately one from each student in the school. She expected him to choose a few to include in the final mural, but his response surprised her.
“He said, ‘Let’s bring it back to the students and see what they pick,’ then after they picked he looked at how to put it surrounding his Jesus,” she said.
Kunimura added, “It wasn’t like, ‘We have to have the rainbow Jesus fish over here and the dove over here.’ It wasn’t like that at all. It was a very organic process.”
Although not every child’s artwork made it into the final mural, every student was involved in the next step of the process — breaking up the tiles required to recreate the chosen art. The older students also helped glue the tiles together.
“We did that (broke tiles) for weeks,” Kunimura said. “He brought in these big huge sheets of mesh and we got to glue the tiles onto patterns he made. The students really were part of the entire process, from beginning to end.”
She added, “It couldn’t have gone better if you planned it. He is a great gift to Utah and the community that he’s able to bring this kind of artwork to all of us.”
St. Marguerite Catholic School unveiled the finished mural on its Facebook page on Feb. 3. It was exactly what Kirkbride envisioned — a piece of art that represents the school and its student body.
“The pictures don’t do it justice,” she said. “It’s just beautiful in person.”
For Whiting, the completion of the mural signalled the end of a unique and special project.
“It has been one of the most enjoyable projects of my career to work on,” he said. “Since I contract with government institutions in most of my work (cities, public schools, etc) it is usually forbidden to introduce topics of faith.”
He continued, “Despite a slight difference in my own personal faith — I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the principal and staff never questioned my devotion to Christ or to the mission of Saint Marguerite. I’ve grown to appreciate the Catholic faith more, and the quiet goodness of these people who reach out with love to their students on a daily basis.”
The mosaic at Saint Marguerite is the second-largest mural Whiting has done to date. In total, the project required more than 50 hours of gluing and grouting tiles. Many more hours were spent designing the piece and working with students.
“Caroline Kunimura, the art teacher at the school, helped to keep her students on task and excited during the in-class sessions where we learned about the history of mosaics and worked on them together,” he said. “My assistants — Lyndzie Nielson and Jasmine Back — were invaluable to the 50-plus hours of installing and grouting the mosaics.”