Artist Olivia Benson and teacher Jake Reichner are delighted with the new mural at Quilcene School. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Artist Olivia Benson and teacher Jake Reichner are delighted with the new mural at Quilcene School. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

A Renaissance woman of the school year

Painting welcomes students as they return to classroom

QUILCENE — The 220-student Quilcene School was quiet last Wednesday.

Most youngsters were home with their laptop computers — except Olivia Benson, 17, who walked into the courtyard she’d just beautified.

Her art teacher, Jake Reichner, met with Benson to talk about this odd school year, and Benson’s ability to meet the moment.

“We’d normally be playing volleyball right now,” said Reichner, who, besides guiding an art course, teaches seventh grade — as in all of the subjects.

With no volleyball in sight, Benson spent about five days painting a 4-foot by 8-foot mural of mountains, bay and sky. With its acrylic colors, stenciled ferns and epoxy gleam, it graces the wall facing the school’s central plaza.

“She just ran with it,” Reichner said, adding he wanted his student to feel free to use any and all colors. And Benson did just that.

Though not an experienced painter, she knows how to express herself: She has created pieces for the Port Townsend Wearable Art Show and is a pianist, songwriter and singer — a musician who doesn’t stay inside a particular genre.

With this mural, “I wanted to brighten the courtyard,” she said, “and do something local,” having enjoyed a trip to Quilcene Bay.

Benson went into her project worried it wouldn’t turn out like she fervently wanted it to. Now she’s quite pleased: It’s full of light, as she envisioned.

Quilcene’s elementary, middle and high school are on a hybrid schedule of remote and in-person instruction, and some kids had seen the mural on Instagram already.

On Thursday, “kids are back on campus. It feels good,” said principal Sean Moss.

The new mural “is definitely creating buzz,” he added, noting that amid the many challenges of the 2020-21 term, Benson’s art is a creative response.

Moss taught art before becoming a principal. Reichner’s work — in just his second year teaching at Quilcene School — inspires him.

“So many things in life are catalysts,” Moss said. While no one would have wished for the coronavirus, it has spurred staff and students to stretch beyond the old ways. Educators are seeking to engage kids not just with lectures and paper tests but also with videos, podcasts — and conversation.

“Teachers want to see all of their kids succeed,” added Reichner, so they must tailor their instructing to the ones who do well learning remotely and the ones who struggle mightily with it.

“It’s a lot of work,” long after school has ended for the day, he said.

A veteran of some 20 years in the classroom, he’s concerned about how youngsters, at home with their laptops, can develop their interpersonal relationship skills.

That’s largely what school is about, he said.

Artmaking continues to energize. Reichner’s next project involves using markers and paint colors to turn blank, disposable face masks into small, vivid flags — which this art teacher wants to string together into a large quilt.

People often say, “We’ll get through this” when talking about COVID-19, Reichner noted.

He hopes for more.

Art and craft experiments can document this time — make the most of it — and give people of any age a chance to try something new.

“Right now is still happening. Right now is still valid,” Reichner said.

As for Benson, she’ll graduate next June — though she said she’s not sure there will be a graduation ceremony.

Meantime, the teenager will continue developing her skills as a musician and muralist.

More campus art may well come from the hands of this Renaissance woman: “She can be the artist in residence,” Reichner said.

One more thing he teaches: the middle- and high school yearbook class. It’s another forum for history and creativity — and, yes, Benson is one of the students producing it this year.

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

More in Entertainment

Copper Canyon Press’ Joseph Bednarik is editor of the largest book ever published by the Port Townsend press: “Jim Harrison: Complete Poems.” The book will be celebrated in an online launch party, free to the public, at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)
Copper Canyon Press to publish poetry tome

‘Jim Harrison: Complete Poems’ launch party Wednesday

History on display in flyover

Flight scheduled during Wreaths Across America

Peninsula Daily News columnist Pat Neal to speak in Port Townsend

Pat Neal will present “The History of Fishing on… Continue reading

Tidepools Magazine accepting submissions through Jan. 16

Tidepools Magazine is accepting submissions for its 58th edition… Continue reading

Dashiell Lemay, 4, supported by mom Amy Lemay of Port Townsend, fist-bumped with Santa Claus under the Tyler Street Plaza tent in Port Townsend on Saturday afternoon during the Port Townsend Main Street's seasonal activities that included a tree-lighting at dusk.   Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
Jolly meeting

By Diane Urbani de la Paz Peninsula Daily News Dashiell Lemay, 4,… Continue reading

Artist Lisa Leporati checks the fragrance of her flower confetti, one of the items she'll offer during the Handwork Market, an artists' showcase at the Cotton Building in downtown Port Townsend on Saturday. Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
Art, drama, dance on tap this weekend

Like a flock of multicolored sheep turned loose, the Handwork Studio artists… Continue reading

Holiday Bazaar and Bake Sale this weekend

Port Angeles Friends of the Library to host

Book discussion groups offered online this month

Novel Conversations and Wednesday Evening to meet

Most Read