Mural brings Garden to Whittier Elementary
Gary Cummings is hardly your basic pampered artist.
An accomplished painter who has sold a number of his original works, he has happily subordinated a personal career to teaching at Whittier Elementary for the past 18 years.
Then, when Principal Marlys Berg suggested a mural above the school office last spring, Cummings had to deal with an exposed outlet box and wiring conduits that could not be relocated, a steel eagle (representing the school logo) that had to stay where it was mounted and the need to find his own paint.
Oh yeah, and it would be nice if he could finish before the '04-'05 school year started.
The resulting product, which greeted students when school reopened in August, is a realistically impressionistic rendering of one of the most famous views of the Garden of the Gods - Pikes Peak between the Gateway Rocks, as seen looking down from the Kissing Camels neighborhood. Titled “Pikes Peak Region,” the mural is 5 ½ feet high by 16 feet wide.
“We're very, very excited about this,” Berg enthused. “What he did was far beyond what I was expecting. I thought he'd just do a few mountains and a few clouds and be done in a couple of days.”
Cummings said he owes the vivid colors to his family members and friends, who scrounged up 75 cans of recycled house paint for him. Out of 63 different colors, he told the Westside Pioneer he used 40 or 50. “That was my big joke,” he chuckled. “” Everyone got to clean their garages out for this project.”
His mother (Shirley Cummings) became his assistant, as she has on previous occasions, even climbing on the scaffolding at times to paint alongside her son. The mural idea started when Berg - who became principal last spring - found the donated eagle in the school basement, admired its style and decided it needed better visibility.
Side note: There is a mystery about the eagle's origin. Reportedly, it was created and donated by a local artist to commemorate Whittier's 100-year anniversary in 2001. But exactly who the artist was is not known. Only the name, “Bauer,” appears on the back. Anyone with information about the piece is asked to call the school at 328-4900.
Putting the eagle on display over the offices got Berg thinking “it was OK, but it needed something,” as she put it. Discussions with Cummings, followed by his own ruminations and scouting efforts, led to the idea for a Westside-related mural and his deciding on the Garden of the Gods.
Wanting to do the job right, he and his mother spent five hours taking photos from the Kissing Camels area, unwittingly trespassing behind the Garden of the Gods Club until “we were asked very nicely to remove ourselves,” Cummings recalled.
In any case, they had the photos they needed, from which he made a series of transparencies. Projected on the wall, the transparencies helped him determine how big to make the painting. A tricky aspect was proportioning it so that the mounted eagle would appear to be flying in the foreground.
The painting is “pretty accurate,” he said, though confessing that he had to “scootch in the Kissing Camels a little bit.”
Although Whittier does not have a budget for an art teacher, Cummings has helped out in an extracurricular manner over the years, usually organizing an “art club” for interested students after school.
He said he enjoyed the painting project, in large part because of his affection for where he lives and works, having been a Westside homeowner since 1979.
As for a full-time painting career, he said he might try that some future day when he retires from teaching.
Westside Pioneer article