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Archives Books, school, Catholicism woven into mural

January 26, 2022

By Darcy Fargo

MASSENA – Students walking down a particular hallway at Trinity Catholic School are transported from Massena to a storybook forest thanks to the efforts of a volunteer artist.

Massena resident Michele Chartrand created murals in the hallway that center around books, but also include images specific to Catholicism and the school.

Chartrand said the project came about after she did a smaller mural when a friend started teaching pre-kindergarten at Trinity.

“I did this mural, and it was really bright and colorful,” Chartrand said. “(Trinity Principal) Joyce Giroux said the piece I did down there livens up the room. She said the hallway looked like a dungeon. She asked if I could make it bright and colorful.”

After brainstorming with Giroux about potential ideas, Chartrand settled on a “storybook forest.”

“I pulled characters and imagery from 56 books,” Chartrand said. “We went across four walls. I started painting before the pandemic hit. Once the pandemic hit, I had to limit my work to the weekends, since the school was limiting contact. Because of the time constraints, it took a year and a half to finish.”

With the storybook images, Chartrand hid images related to the school and Catholicism in the murals.

“Bishop’s crozier is hidden in the trees – it’s really hard to find, too,” Chartrand said. “There are doves holding olive branches; fishes and loaves; symbols for confirmation, marriage and baptism; the Greek symbols for Jesus – alpha and omega; candles. There are also silly things hidden in there for the kids. I have three minions hidden in there, Waldo from Where’s Waldo, our two janitors from the school, the Gingerbread man from Shrek – lots of things.”

Some of the items are hidden so well, even the artist has a difficult time finding them.

“I had to make a cheat sheet,” Chartrand said. “Even with the cheat sheet, there are things hidden so well, I have a hard time finding them. Joyce (Giroux) has a copy of the sheet at the school, and I have a copy for backup. I wanted to make sure there were enough things there that it appealed to all ages. There are easy things to find for the littlest kids, and there are harder things to find for the older kids.”

Trinity students seem to enjoy both the hidden items and the storybook theme.

“I had a blank spot on a wall, so I added a yellow circle blob on a bunch of books. It’s Nibbles the book monster – a character from a book the young students know well,” Chartrand said. “One of the teachers messaged me after the kids saw it. She said the kids went wild over the fact that Nibbles was on the wall. It was great getting feedback from the teachers. We’re big readers in our household, so a lot of the books I used for inspiration were favorites from our home. I also talked to the teachers about books they use in their classrooms. I picked a lot of really popular books. The older kids remember the books from when they were young. The younger kids are familiar with some of them. They hear the older kids talk about the images they know and the books they loved. I’m hoping having all these kids talking about books will get the kids to want to read some of these books they’re hearing about.”

Chartrand said she would’ve loved to extend the mural into another hallway area, but she ran out of time to work on the project, as she and her family are moving out of the area.

“I just ran out of time,” she said. “I could’ve continued adding to it forever. My husband, Darin, kept reminding me I had to draw the line somewhere.”

Chartrand donated her time as well as the supplies for the project.

“What good is having the skills and talents God gave me if I’m not sharing them,” she asked. “It was about giving back to the school, the community and the Church. Giving back doesn’t have to involve tons of money. If people aren’t willing to donate their time and talents, even money is useless. There are lots of simple ways to give back. It might be donating bulbs from your flower bed and planting them outside the church or school. It might be weeding around the flower beds. It might be taking care of the flowers at church or helping decorate. There are a lot of ways to give back, and it’s important.”

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