Forest Hill Expresses its Nature

by Dan Mullins

If you’ve spent any time around Forest Hill Junior, you know that it’s a very special place in many ways. On April 4th, yet another example of how special it is was installed on the front of the building – the beautiful result of a beautiful process. You can see the mural, entitled “Into the Woods” from the road.

What you can’t see is the process that led to its creation. Maybe you can sense it a bit, as it is reflected in the final product. Every single student at the school has contributed… and each one can tell you exactly which part of the enormous painting they worked on. Most of the staff have been involved too.

Guided by artist Madeleine Turgeon, the students were noticeably calm and remarkably focused while working in the room used for the project. On March 31st, eight students of a second-grade class listened attentively, and with careful strokes of their brushes applied paint to one of eight panels. Each of the panels depicts a scene inspired by the natural surroundings of the school. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the repurposed room the forest in which the school is located, and for which it is named, was visible. Inside the room the nearly complete panels featured a bumblebee, a bird’s nest with eggs, a horned owl, a racoon, a pine grosbeak, a fleur-de-lis, a red fox, and a tiger swallowtail butterfly, each of which could be found outside in that forest.

The eight panels are sequential, after a manner of speaking. They loosely track the students’ progress at the school, starting with the first days of kindergarten. “When they arrive, they’re a little bit like a bumblebee running around, without too many social skills,” said Turgeon. By the time they finish Grade 2 and leave for the senior campus, “they will be like a beautiful butterfly.”

Turgeon emphasized biodiversity and a sensitivity to ecological concerns during her interactions with the students, as well. For example, when she brought in her collection of birds’ nests to show the students, she pointed out some bits of plastic that the birds had woven into them. “We talked about the garbage that we don’t throw into the environment,” she said.

School principal Lisa Larente described how the project came about. In conversations with colleagues and at staff meetings, it became clear that a major initiative would be very welcome at the school. “We were looking for a school wide project,” said Larente. “We saw what was done at Birchwood, and we felt this could be a really good experience for our students.” So they applied for funding through Culture à L’École, which is a funding source provided by the Ministry of Education. The funding covered Madeleine’s fee – which included all of the materials and her time, of which she dedicated a huge amount, according to Larente: “I can say she’s one of the most hardworking artists I’ve met. She was with kids all day, and that’s what she wanted. She really has a special way with kids.”

Drag Left or Right for Before and After

Everyone who currently studies at the school has contributed to the creation of the project, which represents them. The subject matter is the school’s setting. Installed on the front of the school, facing the road, structurally fitting into the architectural elements of the building, it seems a natural addition – a perfect representation of the school’s identity.
Predictably, it has been garnering rave reviews.
“Photos really don’t do it justice,” noted Larente – next time you’re in Saint Lazare, an in-person viewing is highly recommended.