BROOKSVILLE — While some students in Kevin McManus' geography class were busy finishing their class work, a few who had finished early were busy smashing tiles, sorting the now broken pieces by color or artistically placing the broken, sorted pieces on a prepared concrete board.
The children were working on West Hernando Middle School's latest mosaic as part of the school's "Hands Across the World" program.
While walking around the school, students, staff and visitors can see mosaics created in past years. The works of art are schoolwide efforts and are displayed in gardens throughout the campus. There is a mosaic of a flattened globe, one depicting the Holocaust and others that are student artistic designs.
The latest mosaic is a two-piece work based on two paintings by James Gibson, one of Florida's noted Highwaymen artists. With his permission, eighth-grade art students traced outlines of the paintings that were projected onto the art boards and colored them to create templates for the tile piece layers.
This mosaic along with the ones created in previous years, as well as the gardens in which they are displayed, are multiple-discipline projects. The mosaics are made in McManus' classroom, but many teachers are involved.
Math students plotted the landscaping of the garden. Language arts students have the job of corresponding with Gibson, including inviting him to the dedication when the mosaics are finished. They will also write the speech that will be read at that time. In social studies, students have learned about Florida history.
Science classes helped with Florida native drought-resistant plants. The students have been looking up their scientific names and providing options for the garden.
Sixth-grader Ashlee Peterson, 12, recently worked on the mosaic with her classmate Amanda Hosmer, 11. Ashlee explained how she was making palm fronds by the way she was laying the tile fragments.
"He (McManus) puts glue and you put the tile down to look like fingers," she said. She has some experience having worked on the other Gibson painting earlier this year. She says she is not the best artist, but is good at mosaics.
"I don't draw very good, but I do this very good, because he (McManus) shows us how to do it." And Ashlee likes the idea of copying Gibson's paintings, "because it's showing other people's work," she said. "You're showing appreciation for their work."
Amanda says she is a pretty good artist and hopes the school's students appreciate what they have. "I think other students would look at them and say 'That's really nice,' " she said.
As part of the project she has learned about James Gibson and the Highwaymen. "He goes down the highway and he'll stop and unload his paints and he'll paint and it doesn't take a very long time," she said.
Uriah Poteet, 11, is a tile bits sorter and said it is a little bit harder "when we have the small pieces to do." But the smaller pieces are better for fitting into the mosaic, the sixth-grader explained, "so I'm looking for the small ones."
Uriah said he also learned about the Highwaymen. "There's a whole bunch of them out there. When they see a beautiful scene, they stop and take their stuff and start painting. Now they sell for a lot of money."
Uriah was doing his sorting with classmate Robbie Bradley, 12. "It's fun to see something that we did around the school," Robbie said.
Sixth-grader Evan Jamison, 11, is a tile smasher. He uses tiles donated by Pro-line Tile and Gulf Tile. "I think it's kind of fun working on this stuff," he said. He puts a tile into a small plastic bag and smacks it with a hammer, shattering it.
"With your safety glasses on all the time," McManus reminded him.
When the mosaics are completed they will be set into the garden that the students have designed and planted. The school plans an April 22 dedication at which the students hope to meet James Gibson.
"It was his idea to come to the dedication," McManus said. "He was overjoyed and enthusiastic and he thought this was a great opportunity for the kids."
And McManus is proud of all the participants. "They do good work," he said. "Once you get them focused, they do good."
Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.