Nearly 12 years after hard-fought battle with bureaucracy, Century School kid-muralists to reunite

photo by: Richard Gwin

Century School art teacher Tim Holtzclaw, left, hugs muralist David Loewenstein while schoolchildren play in front of the school's mural after its unveiling Monday, July 24, 2006.

July 25 will mark the official 12-year anniversary of the day Tim Holtzclaw and his students could finally declare victory in their long battle with bureaucracy.

That day, Holtzclaw’s students added the finishing touches — their signatures — to the mural that almost didn’t happen. On Sunday, the Century School kids, now young adults, will sign their names once again to the brick wall they successfully fought to transform into a colorful mural inspired by a Leonardo da Vinci quote:

“Everything is connected to everything else.”

About a dozen families involved with the mural all those years ago are now coming together again, this time for a reunion Sunday at Century School, 816 Kentucky St., and the mural site across the alleyway.

“The mural is beginning to crumble in certain areas,” says Holtzclaw, now a registered nurse at Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Hospital. “We knew it wouldn’t last forever. It’s kind of the theme of the mural. It’s also that cycle of life, too.”

For years, Holtzclaw, his former students and their families had heard talk about the mural site being redeveloped at some point. Now, with Bob Schumm having filed plans for a mixed-use condominium project on the vacant lots several months ago, that redevelopment seems pretty “imminent,” Holtzclaw says.

“We thought it was a good opportunity to reunite, and a lot of these kids haven’t seen each other in a while,” he says.

Holtzclaw, now 37, was only in his first year at the private Century School when he suggested the school take part in a public art project. A pair of vacant lots across the alleyway, along the 800 block of Vermont Street, seemed a good location for a mural.

So, the young teacher asked the school’s neighbors — a dental office — for permission to begin painting. They said yes. Then, a few months later, the project hit a snag.

The mural was about halfway finished when property owners in the area expressed concern about the students, who ranged in age from 3 to 12, painting from the first landing of scaffolding.

The Lawrence Arts Commission also rejected the proposed project, which was only given the all-clear after the Lawrence City Commission opted to put aside permit issues with the project.

“There was a mild controversy around the creation of it, because I didn’t know what I was doing in terms of getting permits and things,” Holtzclaw says. “The original lesson turned into this whole civics lesson where the kids came and spoke in front of the Arts Commission and we got permission after the fact.”

“When we did have to present our case to the city and the Arts Commission, we did bring a handful of kids with us, and they did have to step up to the microphone and tug the heartstrings a little bit of the Arts Commission members,” he remembers.

Mika and Bayn Schrader don’t remember any of that, but they think it’s pretty cool now, after the fact. Their mom, Bobbi, filled them in on their battle with bureaucracy later on.

“The mural has a little more meaning to me now, knowing everything that happened with it,” says Bayn, an incoming senior at Free State High School.

“I just remember how proud I was that I helped,” recalls Mika, now an incoming junior at the University of Kansas majoring in history and religious studies.

Mika’s a few years older than her brother, so her memories are a bit sharper. What sticks out in her mind more than a decade later is the mural’s unveiling ceremony in July 2006. She’s excited to see “all the kids that I worked with,” she says, referring to classmates who aren’t kids anymore.

A lot of her friends at KU didn’t grow up here in Lawrence, and Mika says she enjoys pointing out the mural when showing them around town. It’s “this little piece of Lawrence history that I’m part of,” she says.

“I’m impressed at how well it’s held up,” Mika says. “I thought it would’ve weathered more in 13 or 14 years.”

It’s actually been nearly 12 since the project’s unveiling, but the high-quality paint muralist Dave Loewenstein provided was only expected to last a decade at most, Holtzclaw says.

And there’s no prospect of it being saved with the new condo development coming in, he expects. As Holtzclaw understands it, the new building will be constructed back-to-back with the brick wall of the old Vermont Street Station, obscuring the mural indefinitely — at least “until they tear the building down someday,” Holtzclaw says.

“It’ll be sealed in there like a time capsule forever,” he says.

“When you create these things, you always kind of assume that they’re not going to be around forever,” Holtzclaw says. “So that’s part of the deal — you’re creating it for the experience, and whatever people you can reach while it is public and on display during that time, is really valuable.”

If anything, the mural’s next chapter only fulfills the theme of the project, he says. It all goes back to the da Vinci quote that inspired the mural in the first place: “Everything is connected to everything else.”

“It’s always sad when public art is removed from the public eye,” says Holtzclaw. “But thankfully, we live in a community where that type of thing is really encouraged, and there’s always new art popping up.”


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