Photography by Owen Jones.

It was Friday afternoon, but a well-informed Lipscomb Elementary student couldn’t wait to come back to school Monday. When her classmates returned from the weekend, they understood her excitement. Seven brightly colored educational murals had been painted in their cafeteria. 

“Amazing,” the kids said as they beheld the murals depicting the water cycle, the solar system and states of matter. It was just the reaction neighbor Nyda Faith had hoped for. 

“I had tears in my eyes,” she says. “Some of them were clapping, and they came in saying, ‘Look, look, look.’ It was worth everything.”

The real estate agent had previously donated to Lipscomb through the school’s annual silent auction, but she wanted to help the students more directly. She teamed up with Lora Owens, the advocacy chair for the parent-teacher association, and began talking with educators about potential projects. 

When the principal recommended brightening the cafeteria with educational murals, Faith knew she wanted to commission Lesli Marshall. The mixed-media artist has completed several murals in Dallas, including the one on the back of Pecan Lodge in Deep Ellum. 

The only problem was that Faith recognized Marshall’s work but didn’t know her name at the time.

“I was at home when (Lesli) came on TV,” Faith says. “It was divine intervention. I was like, ‘That’s the girl.’ I called her, and she said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

In May, Marshall and a team of two other artists spent 14 hours over the weekend painting the murals on the tile walls of the cafeteria. Getting the paint to stick on the old surface was a challenge for the Junius Heights artist. Tile and grout prevented crisp, clean lines, so Marshall kept the designs bold and blocky.

For example, the fan-favorite solar system mural depicts eight orbs facing the sun on a black background filled with other galaxies. A visual series showing different habitats features a sea turtle swimming through coral in the ocean and a polar bear traveling across the arctic alongside two friendly penguins.

“It makes a huge impact to bring color to a space and also be educational,” Marshall says. “We made (the murals) reflective of their age. I mixed colors and added vibrancy and did all the descriptions so they could see the visuals and relate it to what it’s representing.”

The volunteers hope that by bringing creativity to the curriculum, students will receive a more holistic education that sticks with them for years to come.

“It helps them think about the things they discover in the classroom year round,” Owens says. “When they’re at lunch, they may start conversing about the different topics and help them make those connections. Anytime we’re enriching their environment, it helps them bring everything together.”

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