North Gwinnett High School students create Chinese zodiac mural in Suwanee

North Gwinnett High School arts honor students work on a Chinese zodiac mural in downtown Suwanee. (Courtesy of Curt Yeomans)

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North Gwinnett High School arts honor students work on a Chinese zodiac mural in downtown Suwanee. (Courtesy of Curt Yeomans)

North Gwinnett High School seniors Kayla Eyles and Mingjia Li are used to painting on something that is, you might say, small.

For the students, a canvas would be what they are used to painting on. The canvases might vary in size, but it’s what they are used to.

But Eyles and Li, who are the president and vice president of the National Art Honor Society at North Gwinnett, are currently among the students from North Gwinnett who are in the midst of painting a mural that spans three walls on a utilities area that houses the City Hall generator in downtown Suwanee.

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North Gwinnet High School students Ellina Jung, left, and Kayla Eyles paint a portion of the mural on April 15. (Courtesy of Curt Yeomans)

Credit: Curt Yeomans

North Gwinnet High School students Ellina Jung, left, and Kayla Eyles paint a portion of the mural on April 15. (Courtesy of Curt Yeomans)

Credit: Curt Yeomans

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North Gwinnet High School students Ellina Jung, left, and Kayla Eyles paint a portion of the mural on April 15. (Courtesy of Curt Yeomans)

Credit: Curt Yeomans

Credit: Curt Yeomans

“It’s such a big project and it’s great to be a part of something so big in our community, especially large scale too because we’re all used to doing smaller things and canvases,” Eyles said.

Li added, “It’s so exciting, but also so challenging because it is so specific down to each color and each line has to be perfect.”

Members of the North Gwinnett High School National Art Honor Society are partnering with the city of Suwanee on the mural. It’s the first time that the city has partnered with high school students to do a mural project, although some students have done murals for downtown businesses in the past.

The mural, which is expected to take about 50 hours to complete, will be part of Suwanee’s upcoming SculpTour exhibit. It is located on the rear side of Suwanee City Hall.

The colorful mural features many of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, putting a dragon, a horse, a snake, a monkey, a pig, a tiger, a rabbit and a dog on prominent display in the heart of downtown Suwanee.

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North Gwinnett sophomore Li Lin designed the mural that was chosen by the seven-member Suwanee Public Arts Commission for the project.

“They loved the color, the vibrancy of this mural,” Suwanee special project coordinator Toni Shrewsbury said. “They liked that you can interact with it (and) get a picture in front of it. We were really hoping for a piece to come back that way.

“And, when they asked some question of the student who submitted the design to try to explain to us what was going on here, it just seemed to click in their mind.”

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North Gwinnett High School student Clarissa Reizenson paints part of the Chinese zodiac mural. (Courtesy of Curt Yeomans)

Credit: Curt Yeomans

North Gwinnett High School student Clarissa Reizenson paints part of the Chinese zodiac mural. (Courtesy of Curt Yeomans)

Credit: Curt Yeomans

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North Gwinnett High School student Clarissa Reizenson paints part of the Chinese zodiac mural. (Courtesy of Curt Yeomans)

Credit: Curt Yeomans

Credit: Curt Yeomans

Shrewsbury said the city and the Suwanee Public Arts Commission wanted to work with the students because they saw an art project as another way to get the community involved in the city.

“The North Gwinnett (art) honors program has just consistently always produced super talented students and we felt like it would be a fit for the city and a fit for the school since this pays a stipend as part of our SculpTour exhibit,” Shrewsbury said. “So, we were able to donate to the school the stipend for that.”

Dallas Gillespie, the North Gwinnett National Art Honor Society co-sponsor, said a plan is already in place for how some of the funds can be used to help students who will be heading to college in the fall.

“We’re going to use a portion of those proceeds to give some seniors, the top three that apply and are going to art school, a scholarship,” Gillespie said.

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Credit: Curt Yeomans

Credit: Curt Yeomans

Eyles, Li and other North Gwinnett students spent April 15 working on the mural, trying to knock as much of it out as possible.

Gillespie said students had already spent about 15 hours working on the mural as of last Friday. The goal is to have the mural finished before the North Gwinnett Arts Association’s Art Festival, which is scheduled for May 14-15 in downtown Suwanee.

The festival will serve as an unofficial unveiling for this year’s SculpTour.

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“Our philosophy is art with a purpose,” Gillespie said. “So, prior to the pandemic, we did face painting for the community, we worked with special needs adults, but because we lost that human contact component and we were doing both in-person and digital last year, it was really hard for us to get out and work with the community.

“So, we’re really excited to be back out, and we’re trying to chose things where we can do them safely for the kids.”

Although Lin designed the mural, she was not able to join her fellow students during the painting work day on April 15. She had a test to take at school.

Eyles said there were some challenges presented by having to translate Lin’s vision to the mural. The animals overlap with each other and they are different colors so it’s a matter of trying to remember which color is to be used where on the mural.

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Credit: Curt Yeomans

Credit: Curt Yeomans

“I think the hardest thing is going from a very small picture and having to just scale it up, and then stepping back every so often and saying, ‘OK, that needs to be up or down,’ and just looking at it from a big perspective,” Eyles said.

Shrewsbury said it was great to see the mural honor the Asian community. Suwanee and other parts of western Gwinnett County are home to one of the largest, if not the largest, Asian-American communities in Georgia.

“It’s just really fun,” she said. “It’s just a great piece. The Public Arts Commission has had this wall in mind for a mural for years and we just couldn’t find the right design, the right time and the right funding mechanism for it and this just happened that we were able to make it a part of SculpTour and create a little funding for the project.”

While the city is getting an interactive piece of public art that highlights some of the community’s diversity, the art students are getting to see what it’s like to create art outside the classroom environment.

“I’m going to art school (at the Rhode Island School of Design) in the fall, so the opportunity to do this mural is giving me a taste of what it’s going to be like as an artist in the future so it’s so exciting for me,” Li said.


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Credit: Gwinnett Daily Post

Credit: Gwinnett Daily Post

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