Of all of the mosaics I have created for Norfolk schools during this project, Camp Allen’s “The Dragon Family” was the most student-driven design. Before I started my work, I visited the school to meet with a leadership council comprising a small group of smart, thoughtful and articulate students. I told them about the project and they told me about the design. They wanted a dragon, the Camp Allen mascot.
I was not particularly keen on the idea at first. Every school has a mascot, a logo, a cartoon creature to rally the sports teams. I imagined the artwork to be something more quote unquote- serious than a mascot. Then kids made it clear to me why the artwork absolutely had to be a dragon.
The students told me what they saw in the dragon and what they saw in themselves: strength, courage, resolve, and fierceness. The dragon was a symbol, a powerful representation of them and their school. It was an illuminating conversation that guided my work.
But I wanted something more than just a dragon on the wall; I hope to make art that tells a story, that shares ideas, and has room for interpretation.
Many of the schools that I have worked with in Norfolk deal with high levels of student turnover. At Camp Allen, military families are routinely deployed to other parts of the world- regardless of the school schedule. New students arrive on a weekly basis. Camp Allen’s leadership has found innovative and creative solutions to help ease this transition for students. The kids told me about the houses with their names, colors and points system, so similar to the Hogwarts houses in the Harry Potter books. Every kid on that leadership council had a story about arriving at Camp Allen as a new student, nervous and unsure. They were welcomed. They were included from the first moment. They described the school as a family.
“The Dragon Family“ mosaic represents that story of Camp Allen. It is a place where young people are protected and supported and encouraged to learn, to grow, to create, and to make friends. To me the dragon on the wall is the school- its principal, its vice principal and administrators, its teachers and assistants, its custodians and volunteers, its amazing students, its parents- everyone who contributes and everyone who takes part.
Early in the design phase, there was some concern; we wanted an approachable dragon, but not a silly cartoon. Sometimes, fairy tales dragons can be scary, frightening beasts that must be vanquished, but that’s not the message we wanted to send. In this story about Camp Allen, dragons are caring and supportive. But I do hope some of the fierceness still comes through. Do not mess with a dragon’s family, because dragons will always protect their treasure.