CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - When you ask Jonathan Green what's the matter with kids these days, he'll tell you -- art. "When you cut art out of curriculums, you lose communication. You lose self-identity. You lose that fighting chance."
They're words spoken with a strong sense of certainty by the world-renowned artist. A native of the Lowcountry, Green has spent the good bit of the past two decades headlining galleries in Chicago and opening his own space in Florida. Despite mounting success, he knew his greatest achievements awaited him back home in the Palmetto State.
"We can become whatever we want to become," said Green. "We just have to give back to home first."
In 2007, Green struck up a conversation with then-superintendent of Charleston County schools and close friend, Maria Goodloe-Johnson. Citing gang violence, drop-out rates and general lack of life direction as an outcome, Green singled in on a lack of creativity-based curricula as the culprit. More specifically, Green told Goodloe-Johnson that inner-city schools, often inhabited by African-Americans, were in need of the most help.
"They're the first programs cut and they leave the biggest impact," said Green. "Art is needed in schools now more than ever."
It was a conversation at a convenient time. The downtown Sanders-Clyde school was just beginning anew; the upgraded facility on the district's drawing board sent Green's mind quickly to his own easel.
Over the new few months, Green crafted a 26-by-36-inch painting of African-American children gathering before a sky blue horizon. Above them a green and orange quilt waving in the wind; a source of much symbolism.
"In African culture the quilt represents identity," said Green. "The quilt was passed on from person to person, generation to generation, encouraging people to live good lives, and no matter the struggle, make it through to the next day, better, stronger. By including the quilt in [the painting], I'm calling attention to the past, present, and future of African-American children. Many times they don't learn of their true history and never discover their full potential."
26-by-36 proved to be just the initial measuring. By the Spring of 2009, Green had planned to recreate his work on to 360 12-by-12 inch ceramic tiles to be installed near the front entrance of the school.
"[The image of the quilt] will serve as encouragement," said Green. "It's welcoming. It's positive. Come in! Learn! This is where we start!"
Starting and finishing by himself, however, would prove to be a bit of a challenge. To speed the process along for the school construction completion date of January, Green brought in three local artists to the project; Casimer Kowalski, Cherna Berdnash, and Dan O'Brien.
"We got together to discuss how we were going to go about enlarging the painting to the scale that we had to work with," said Kowalski. "We decided to make a scan of it, grid it out so that each grid was a sectioned off to match each particular tile. Then it was a matter of reproducing all of that on ceramic tiles."
For five months, the trio, with supervision from Green, recreated the painting tile by tile by tile.
"I went through the painting and basically dissected it," said Berdnash. "I'd sit down and mix color after color to make sure everything was as close to the original as possible."
According to each artist, work was done around the clock; each moment obsessing over the most minor of details.
"Because we were working to scale, the smallest of errors would be magnificent on the final display," said O'Brien. "It took time to recreate, but it was worth it."
"This project was interesting because none of us made the original that we were duplicating," said Berdnash. "It kept us all attentive!"
The mural was completed in January, 2010. While the design is covered until March 1, Green, and his assistants, know they've done an extraordinary deed.
"It really pops, and is really bright," said O'Brien. "It's going to enliven students."
"All it takes is one student [to be inspired]," said Green. "After all, I too was one person."