Public Art in Holyoke, Made by Teens


This spring, I had the pleasure of working to create public art with some amazing students at Lighthouse Holyoke.

This program was supported in part by a grant from the Holyoke Local Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.


For the past year, students at Lighthouse have been working with the Holyoke Parks Department to secure state funding to renovate a run-down city park around the corner from their school. The school occupies a suite in one of the renovated mill buildings on Race Street by the canals. Soucey Park is just around the corner on Main Street and is in need of some TLC. The students took this on and secured $60,000 to make improvements to the park. They did community surveys to determine what the neighbors want out of their park. Many of the improvements are still in the planning stages, but one thing they agreed upon was public art.

This is where I came into the picture.

The Holyoke Local Cultural Council awarded me a grant to work with the students to create mosaic stepping stones for the park. The students, for whom it was their first mosaic experience, jumped right in and began creating. We discussed public art and the positive impact it can have on a neglected area, making people care more and take pride in their surroundings. The students’ work depicts imagery ranging from a Puerto Rican flag, to the elements of earth, air, fire, water, to landscapes with trees, to hands reaching out, to rainbows, and a yin/yang symbol of balance. They took to heart the impact that their work can have on this public space. I’ll wait to share pictures of these wonderful pieces, until the unveiling in the park later this summer.

In addition, the students each got to make their own small mosaic. The imagery ranged dramatically, including an impressive self portrait, a chili pepper, and more abstract designs.

I loved the opportunity to get to know these students and to experience the culture of their school, which is vastly different from a traditional school setting. Lighthouse Holyoke is about “self-directed learning” where teens choose their own path and are in the company of others doing the same. The school just finished it’s 2nd academic year and held it’s first graduation ceremony last Friday. I feel honored and thrilled to be a part of such an innovative and diverse community, and I salute all of the graduates, especially Alexis Dias, who was one of my students.

Stay tuned for photos of the stepping stones, once they’re installed in Soucey Park later this summer!






Belchertown Library Mural

My Experience as a Visiting Artist in Belchertown

For 6 weeks this past winter, I had the pleasure of working as a visiting artist at Belchertown High School with 3 art classes (a total of 34 students) to design and create a mosaic mural for the town library. The students were a mix of grades 9-12, students of Lori St. Pierre. Lori and I wrote a grant together to the Massachusetts Cultural Council to fund the project.

For many of the students, this was their first awareness of mosaics, though some had seen mosaics in parks or in airports before. We talked about how mosaic art can teach us about a culture. Each student made his or her own mini mosaic- a 4” x 4” work that they got to keep, that also served as a way to practice working in the medium- cutting glass, learning about the way shapes fit together, and the technical aspects of how it all gets attached and grouted. Here are just a few of the wonderfully creative pieces they made:

Then, together as a class, we made lists of ideas of what is special about Belchertown. For some students, this was a challenging exercise, and I can appreciate how hard it is to recognize the uniqueness of where you’re from if you haven’t yet lived in other places! But we came up with lots of subject matter, and the students spent a few days sketching out their ideas. Here are just some of the sketches they made:

Then I worked in my studio, using the students sketches to compose a scene depicting Belchertown. For me, this was the hardest part of the whole project, figuring out how to include a representation of every category of items the students had drawn. I decided to feature the landscape, the Quabbin Reservoir and Swift River, wild animals, farm animals, an apple tree, a maple tree with taps, a ferris wheel to represent the Belchertown Fair, a soccer player and band member, and of course, the Clapp Memorial Library– which was to become the destination of the mural. I had design input from Lori, as well as my mother, Cathy Kenneally, who is somewhat of a legend in the Belchertown schools, having been the elementary art teacher for 20 years. She retired last June.

After February break, I returned to school with a full size color rendering of the design (3’ x 4’) and students got to work making the mosaic.


One at a time, as the sections were completed, we assembled them onto a “master” and students began to work on the background areas. It was a wonderful example of teamwork, compromise and collaboration.


When the whole mural was completed, I did the job of attaching it to a lightweight board, called WEDI board, through a series of flipping sections, spreading mortar to the right thickness, and then assembling a team (including Lori, my mother and one of the school custodians) to help flip the whole thing back over, because by that point it was heavy!

On the last day, we grouted the mosaic:

The installation at the library happened one evening after closing. Greg, the library custodian lent his assistance and my husband Bill was there to help (as he often is when I’m doing an installation). The frame, which was made of steel, by my friend Pat Bennet, was bolted to the wall, and the mosaic secured to the frame with a cleat system. In this way, if they ever need to take it down, it will be easy to do so.

Finally, on April 6, it was time to have our celebration of the mural. We had covered it with paper, to allow for a dramatic unveiling and many of the students and their families attended the event, along with many members of the community- the school board, library trustees and even a photographer from A local baker decorated a big sheet cake to look like the mural, which was so awesome!

I could not be more pleased with this experience, and with the outcome. Belchertown now has a piece of public art to be proud of, and the students who made it will be able to come back year after year, eventually bringing their own children to see the work they participated in. I am so grateful to all who made this possible, especially Lori St Pierre, Sheila McCormick, the Library Director, and to the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Click here to read the article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about this project.

Click here to read the article in the Belchertown Sentinel about this project.

Click here to view photos of the reception on

Students at the reception


Lori St. Pierre and I, at the Clapp Memorial Library