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Art history: Time was limited for mural at Cottage Grove's Hillside Elementary

Artist and Hillside Elementary School parent Richard Hubal volunteered to paint a mural on the gym wall two years ago. The gym was repainted recently. Bulletin file photo by Judy Spooner1 / 2
The Hillside Elementary School gym, last painted two years ago, is brighter with new paint and new overhead lights. Several murals, painted by a Twin Cities mural artist, were painted over in the renovation. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner2 / 2

The Hillside Elementary School gym got a new look during Winter Break. After 10 years, it was repainted and new lights installed to make it a brighter place for kids to be.

But the "Hawk's Nest" mural, painted on one of the walls two years ago, was painted over in the renovation, something that bothers Richard Hubal, a well-known Twin Cities artist who volunteered to paint it.

"It was a shock for the kids," said Hubal, whose daughter, Grace, is in the fifth-grade and was a third-grader when her father painted "Hawk's Nest."

"It's like it never existed," Hubal said of the work.

Staff members photographed the mural associated with the school's Hillside Hawks mascot, and other art work in hallways, said Erin Shadick, school principal. There are also plans to include pictures in the school's yearbook this year.

"We appreciated that Richard did that," Shadick said. "We also knew that it would be there for a limited time."

The decision to paint over it so the space would look like the other walls was not made because the school doesn't value art, Shadick said.

Shadick said it would have looked out of place to leave part of one wall unpainted.

The district has a 10-year paint rotation policy, so it would be another 10 years before the gym was painted again, Shadick said, with no money in the school's budget to paint it on its own.

Students have asked about the approximately 5-foot by 5-foot Hawk mascot that was in the front hallway that has been removed, she said. It was a decal that the school plans to replace.

John Doth, district director of facilities, said the standard practice is to paint over any walls that have murals on them after consulting with the school principals.

"Our philosophy is that by the time we get to the walls to paint them, they are in bad shape and new paint allows the building to move forward with a fresh, clean new start," Doth said.

It was not his department's intention to be unappreciative or to minimize Hubal's artwork, Doth said.

The facilities department's rules state that teachers, students or staff members are not allowed to paint murals or mascots on school walls. His department must be informed of any such intent so specific quality paint would be used, he said.

Hubal, who described himself as an unorthodox multi-medium artist, said he's aware some art isn't meant to last forever. He said concern is not about his ego but about the pride kids feel through the image of the Hillside Hawks.

"Whatever happened to school pride?" he said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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