We Live Here: Wellington Flats—a Community Project

This is an ongoing project. Date of Completion: June, 2020

I was commissioned by Vision Nursing Home, Sarnia, to provide a mural for the inside of their affordable housing complex: Wellington Flats. I brought the request to the grade 7/8 class at Sarnia Christian School and we discussed how this commission might be the basis for a year-long class learning project. Students will design the mural, will determine which materials are best suited to the project and will become proficient in their use. Students will understand the context (historical, sociological, geological, and biological) of the land owned by Vision 74. Students will become familiar with and will write the stories of the people who currently live in Wellington Flats. Students will create the mural incorporating all of the above.

This year-long project will help students to develop skills in the language arts, visual arts, historical research and geological study. In addition, they will develop collaborative skills, communication skills, curiosity, critical thinking, and creative thinking.

The mural at Wellington Flats will be 9’(h)X11’(w). 

Signifying the past, present and future of the city block on which the building stands, this mural has deep roots in ‘place’. Students will use found objects, images, and original art to fill seven layers and three rings that represent the physical and storied landscape of the block as it touches the past and moves into the future.

The basic design resembles the following; however, the students have modified it from this first draft:

The layers will be similar to a mosaic of small tiles and objects. Each layer will have a colour designation. Even though each layer will have a lot going on in it, the overall effect will be one of unity—of layers that are primarily colour-consistent.

The layers are as follows:

Soil: Students participated in a dig on the property and were able to come into contact with all of the soil layers from topsoil to glacial till. Some soil was extracted and used to make thin soil “tiles” which will become part of the mural. “Artifacts” including strings of beads and replica artifacts will be included to represent the long Indigenous history of the land.

Water: This property is part of the St. Clair River watershed. A river called the “Mission River” used to run through the property but was filled in during the 19th century. To represent the water, students will be using coloured glass.

Flora and Fauna: This layer will showcase the natural flora and fauna of the block. Students have been collecting images, recipes and medicinal uses of many of the plants. Some of the students who have excellent drawing skills have been making drawings that can be incorporated into the mural. Other students have been studying the animals that once lived there. Images of these animals will also be included.

History: Students have studied the history of the block and will highlight stories of its past from its long history as part of Aamjiwnaang through the early days of The Rapids and Port Sarnia to its present, in which it is largely occupied by Vision 74 and its many buildings. This layer will include maps, photos and documents that have been transferred to acrylic. 

People: This layer will contain the stories of the people who currently live at Wellington Flats. These are the first residents to live there. Students will be meeting them and interviewing them. Their stories will be written down and woven into this layer. Residents may wish to donate small objects to the project. Some of these will be incorporated into the mural.

Objects: This layer will contain objects that represent life on the block, both past and present. Students have collected game pieces and other objects that represent the history of this place. Some objects were collected from the site when the first of Vision’s buildings was constructed. Replicas of some of these objects, photos and/or real objects will be incorporated into the piece. These objects include war medals and pocket watches.

Sky: The sky’s purpose is to round out the layers so that it moves from earth to sky. The students would like to see the sky read left to right, from night to day.

Circles: The circle elements, inspired by the three metal bands on an old barrel will signify the past, the present, and the future. Students wish to highlight elements of each within the circles. As we move from the past to the future, the design will become more abstract. 

Method:

This mural will be constructed on 24 X 24” panels and then attached to a frame that will be attached to the wall. Guide holes will be pre-drilled so that the students can avoid the places where screws will be used to attach the panels to the wall. Final touches will be done in situ. Adhesives, paints and methods of installation will have been tested for use in mosaics of this type. Students will use only non-toxic materials. If more toxic materials are needed, these will be applied by the artist. Students will pre-arrange where the objects will be adhered.