When the current Mid-Coast School of Technology building comes down this summer, the new, bigger, state-of-the-arts MCST will be revealed. This fall, students from seven schools, as well as local homeschoolers, will find their educational options expanded, as well.

Greeting them as they enter will be an abstract mural that reflects some of what they can study. It also reflects nearly two years of hard work by MCST students, many of whom will have graduated by the time it is installed this summer, and local artist Katharine A. Cartwright.

“I will admit, I'm a little bit envious, I would've loved to be in the new building. I'm going to make time to come in and visit,” said Oceanside High School senior Matthew Shaw, lead designer on the project.

Shaw, Camden Hills Regional High School senior Alexys Schaeffer (lead 3D modeler) and Medomak Valley High School senior Juliette “Jette” Keene (texture designer) make up the principal team of students who realized the mural’s artwork so it can be printed on vinyl and attached to metal panels. The mural, which will wrap around a corner to meet the glass-walled entrance to the central atrium, comes out of the school’s Design/Technology program, led by Brandon Soards.

“We were co-equals on this project and worked as a team in close communication throughout the whole process,” said Cartwright, who lives in Spruce Head. “I was the artist consultant with no experience with the technology employed to create the design, whereas Brandon had all that expertise and was able to effectively guide the students.”

MCST students hail from 19 communities, from Islesboro to Lincoln County, which approved the project in a November 2016 bond referendum. Groundbreaking on the $21.5 million regional technical school took place in September 2017.

“For years, many seemed to not know what actually transpired in this warehouse where we have held our programs since the mid-'70s,” said MCST Director Beth Fisher. “We wanted the exterior of the new building to express vividly to all who pass by the essence of the teaching and learning that happens here.”

To that end, Fisher approached Cartwright, who, with husband Dan Verrillo, has been a supporter of the school, to collaborate with Soards and students on an outdoor mural. Cartwright’s The Laws of Nature, a watercolor series that reflects her diverse background as both an artist and a college-level science teacher, served as inspiration.

“Early on, when I was meeting with the students, I noticed almost right away that Matthew [Shaw] took this very seriously and was looking at some of my work. So my point was just to keep pushing him in that direction,” Cartwright said.

“I'd done smaller graphic design projects, but nothing of this scale. The biggest leap was going from a student to, like, professional in graphic design,” said Shaw.

By last winter, the projects had become more focused, moving from a larger Concept Team to a smaller group of students. The challenging project became part of the Design/Technology classes.

“It helped teach visual elements like balance and flow, but, more importantly, gave students a real-world opportunity that was both huge in scale and stretched out over a longer time period than ever attempted before,” Soards said.

Some of that visual challenge brought the digital design medium face to face with the basics of classical art. Cartwright and students explored the Parthenon Effect, where one’s viewpoint gets distorted looking at something immense. And every form, and relationship between the forms and colors, of the design, being worked out on a computer screen, had to be meticulously gone over again and again, with the mural’s eventual dimensions in mind. After all, the mural will be 30 feet tall.

“Any mistake you make is just going to be huge — I mean really, literally huge! So we had to deal with that, and it took a lot of time. We did a lot of fine tuning for many, many months,” said Cartwright.

While the mural is abstract overall, its elements are not. Fisher said she asked Cartwright to mentor the Design Tech students through development of an image that represents the school’s mission.

 

Mural makers

Mid-Coast School of Technology serves students of Camden Hills Regional, Medomak Valley and Oceanside high schools; Lincoln Academy; and Islesboro Central, North Haven Community and Vinalhaven schools. Students who worked on the mural are: Matthew Shaw (OHS), lead designer; Alexys Schaeffer (CHRHS), lead 3D modeler; Juliette "Jette" Keene (MVHS), texture designer; Isaac Bartlett (homeschooled), 3D modeler; Riley Philbrook (CHRHS), texture photographer; and concept team members Sieryk Benedict (OHS), Ethan Gould (MVHS), Sylvan Gamage (CHRHS), Micah Zisette (MVHS grad), Logan Wheeler (MVHS), Nick Prentiss (OHS) and Tristan Harrison-Billiat (CHRHS grad).

“We have designed the building to support training in a variety of occupational skills, from CNC [Computer Numerical Control] machining to Certified Nursing Assistant. Our local employers are looking for employees that have certificates proving they have achieved specified competencies expected by industry in these occupational areas,” said Fisher.

Those areas include auto and marine technologies, carpentry, pre-engineering and design tech, as well as the culinary arts. The mural’s elements derive from many of the school’s disciplines — but will they “read” from the road?

“I think the biggest problem we had was making something that's cohesive from how far away you are and what angles you’re looking at,” said Shaw.

It was Schaeffer’s task to make the two-dimensional art “pop” via 3D modeling, rendering the mural’s images via software.

“I worked with Cinema 4D. I had a picture of the mural and pictures of the actual objects within the mural, so I would make models and from there would place it on the mural, so it gives us this 3D effect, she said.

Schaeffer, like Shaw, is headed to Southern Maine Community College this fall, where her focus will continue to be animation. But she doesn’t regret getting pulled into the mural project.

“Mr. Soards came to me and he's like, you're good at 3D modeling … And I loved working on it every second, even though the design kept changing,” she said.

“Matt would move mountains and I’d come in and say, you got to change this. I mean he had to go through multiple multitudes of changes, and it affected the rest of the team,” Cartwright said. “You know, there was the constant fear that this is huge and they're going to see the mistakes if we make them!”

It was totally worth it in the end, said Schaeffer, who added that the team had a positive attitude despite, or maybe because of, the months of work required.

“This just turned into, I come to school, I do my morning classes at Camden; then I come here and, [Shaw joining in] MURAL!” she said.

“These guys I think were doing a master's thesis in design, because they did go from — I won't say zero, but — a very amateur level to professional level in less than a year, or maybe six months. And that's booking, that's doing a lot of hard work,” Cartwright said.

Keene’s hard work focused on the mural’s circuitry board element, which she said was challenging, as well as fun.

“These challenges helped me grow and use many different methods and tools that have really helped shape my performance in anything and everything I do or draw," she said.

Indeed, all three members of the final student design team said that working on the as-yet-untitled MCST mural has transformed their approaches to what they hope will be their future vocations.

“It was incredible. I don't think I'm ever going to have an experience like the one that I had working on this mural, personally,” said Schaeffer, who gave a shout-out to homeschooler Isaac Bartlett for the 3-D modeling of the mural’s saw and tire (see the entire list of students, above right).

“The challenge was amazing, when you think about what these guys had to do,” said Cartwright.

Soards agreed, saying the students who weathered that challenge learned a critical professional lesson.

“A great design is 1 in a 100. The real work of a designer is exploring those 99 ‘bad’ ideas before getting to that truly exceptional concept,” he said.

The public will get to see the results sometime this summer, when the mural is installed, and when the finished school itself is officially presented to the communities it serves and that showed such support for the construction.

“To showcase student work on the exterior of the building exemplifies our commitment to support student growth and showcase their achievements,” said Fisher.