Christopher Hall set an “ambitious goal” for his “Sensory Arts” class at the Joseph Lee School: to promote autism awareness through art. Specifically, massive murals made up of thousands of pieces of construction paper.
“Last January, I was trying to think of an idea to do something for Black History Month,” said Hall, who is a special education teacher. “I was really drawn to the Shephard Fairey campaign posters and I built an idea around that and added Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey and Martin Luther King, Jr. So I took it a step further.”
Hall and his students, 50 second to sixth graders, created a mural for the Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown. Both murals consisted of about 8,000 pieces of construction paper, ranging from half an inch to two inches.
“It morphed into trying to spread the word about autism awareness,” Hall said. “Regardless of which one was elected, they were going to make legislation about special education, including autism.”
Besides promoting autism awareness, the murals provide a therapeutic purpose to the young artists.
“The murals are an almost calming experience for the kids,” Hall said.
“There’s one girl who gets really worked up if she can’t get the right size piece in the right place.
They’re really intricate, and it takes a lot of focus and patience. They know they’re working on it, but it’s not until the end when it all comes together that they’re happy.”
Hall added, “It’s almost like, if you ever see a Van Gogh in a picture book, it’s just flat. It doesn’t give its real beauty. Each kid has their own method of doing it, which is incredible. You can just sit there and stare at it because it’s so intricate.”
The students have also created a mural of Mayor Menino, whom, Hall said, was “blown away” when it was presented to him. They have also done murals of Jam’n 94.5’s Ramiro and Ellen DeGeneres.
Now Hall has tasked his students with another project: to bring autism awareness to the White House by creating a new mural of President Obama. At 9 feet high and 18 feet long, it will be the students’ largest single mural to date, and will include “One in 88,” the prevalence of autism by the time they turn 8 years old.
“It’s really important to give tangible evidence that kids with autism are capable of more than people think,” Hall said. “Politicians may hear autism, but they don’t understand what the disability is and what they can accomplish. We want to get it out to as many people as possible.”
The ultimate goal is to have President Obama attend the Sensory Arts art show on April 23 in honor of autism awareness month. However, Hall said he would consider it a success if local politicians to came to the show.
“Obama is ultimately going to be making a speech about autism that month, and it would be really big for him to be there,” Hall said. “I don’t think anyone has an 18-foot mural of Obama.”
The students will also be creating a mural of Gov. Patrick, which Hall is hoping he will unveil at the art show.
Hall posts day-to-day updates of the mural’s progress on the Sensory Arts Twitter and Facebook pages. You can see the progress of the Obama mural, as well as the completed murals, at twitter.com/SensoryArts and https://www.facebook.com/sensoryartsautism .
The Sensory Arts art show will be held on April 12 at 10:30 a.m. at the Joseph Lee School on Talbot Avenue.