Students and artist install mosaics to decorate the memorial garden at Dundee Elementary

When Dundee Elementary School officials dedicated a new memorial garden May, the cement bench that serves as its centerpiece was somber and gray, matching the mood of the ceremony. by: GARY ALLEN - Healing art -- Working with Amity artist Sam Bernardi, 10-year-old fifth grade student Savana Newton places glass tiles on a mosaic stepping stone Friday morning at Dundee Elementary School. Bernardi worked with every student in the school to create the mosaic for the memorial garden honoring the nine people the school has lost in the past few years.

But thanks to the work of Amity artist Sam Bernardi and the entire student body, the centerpiece bench and planter boxes have been decorated with glass-tile mosaics, which have brought the memorial into harmony with the rest of the school courtyard’s bright and energetic feel.

More importantly, the facelift has transformed the tenor of the garden from mournful to celebratory yet respectful, which all along was the goal of school administrators, the Dundee Elementary Parent Group and 2013 Newberg High School graduate Carley Thomas, who coordinated the effort as her senior project.

“To have it go from that stark concrete to color has made it that much nicer,” longtime Dundee teacher Mary Jane Bachmeier said. “It was a really cool thing to do, but it was kind of stark. It will add some color and tie that all in. I think that’s a great idea.”

The memorial was created to honor nine members of the Dundee Elementary community that have died since 2007 — Jordan Nelson (2007), Christian Nelson (2009), Casey Binkerd (2010), Marissa Poznanski (2012), Jordan Boggs (2012), Colton Fettig (2012), Bailey Engels (2012), Jackson Engels (2012) and Amy Engels (2012) — and includes plaques with their names and years spent at the school.

Bernardi’s two weeks as artist in residence, during which every student in the school of approximately 360 helped contribute to mosaic, produced a collaborative effort, which was congruous with the inclusive approach employed in making the memorial project a reality.

To have it go from that stark concrete to color has made it that much nicer. - Dundee teacher Mary Jane Bachmeier

Thomas not only worked with parents, teachers and administrators in planning the project, but reached out to local businesses, like Dundee Garden Art and French Perennial Gardens, to purchase the bench and fill the planter boxes with flowers and small trees.

Bernardi worked with small groups of students through Friday, deputizing each to place four or five tiles on the mosaics.

The three arms of the bench depict trillium flowers, sunflowers and butterflies, respectively, with the same themes adorning the stepping stones, which were included so that all students could participate and will be placed in the planter boxes to add color and unify the two major components of the memorial.

“The staff has been fantastic and the kids have been great,” Bernardi said. “They’ve been exceptional, really engaged and focused. I’ve done everything from the kindergartners up to the fifth-graders. The fifth-graders have been really responsible. On Thursday, there were no teachers to usher students back and forth, so the fifth-graders took that responsibility. It was really great.”

Bernardi, who has been a potter since 1971 before becoming enamored with mosaics about 20 years ago, is no stranger to educational projects — having installed numerous pieces at more than 20 schools in the region. He is familiar with Dundee Elementary as well.

In fact, the first school mosaic project he did nearly 20 years ago still adorns the hallways at the school and another project he did about 15 years ago resulted in the large collage-style mosaics that provide a lot of brightness and color to the courtyard.

In fact, Bernardi was telling a teacher at the school how former students have approached him saying they worked on one of his projects there, only to be told she was actually one of them.

“I said there was no way, but she said she remembered my wife, who used to be a teacher here in Newberg,” Bernardi said. “That was pretty amazing. And I have one kid who swears that his father did some of the tile in there, which is possible. That was pretty cool.”

Bernardi finished up work on the project Tuesday, sealing the grout so that the mosaics will stand up to the cold and wet Oregon winters.

“It ties in with all the other things out here,” Principal Lesley Carsley said. “It looks great. I’m really pleased.”

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