A New Bench at Frank Porter Graham is Created with Love
There’s a New Bench in town, and it has a strong history behind it, as a gift of talent, time and love from a parent, her sons and the extended community at Frank Porter Graham Bilingue Elementary School (FPGB). Months in the making, the bench in front of FPGB has now received its final coat of polyurethane and it’s drawing smiles and bench-sitters, day in and day out.
Artist Denise Page attended Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools herself. Her oldest son, a junior at Chapel Hill High School, attended FPGB, and her younger son is in fifth grade there. Her time as an FPGB parent is winding down. “I have been a part of the FPGB family since it became a dual-language magnet school seven years ago,” said Page.
Through the years, Page has been active in various school-based groups and activities. Currently she is a facilitator for CLASS, or the Coalition of Leaders for African-descendant Student Success, an affinity group for students and their families.
Fellow FPGB parent, Courtney McLaughlin, had the opportunity to view some of Page’s artwork last summer, and a few months later, she took the opportunity to show Page’s art to Principal Karen Galassi-Ferrer. “They approached me to paint the bench (in front of the school),” said Page. “I did not believe I was ready to take on such an initiative, but they really encouraged me. Karen would say, ‘worst case scenario, we will paint the bench burgundy.’ It was her way of pushing me to step out of my comfort zone.”
Galassi-Ferrer agreed. “The bench originally was just my asking Denise if she would share her artistic talent with our school. She really took it from there.”
“My peers in CLASS had held many discussions about the importance of our children being able to see a reflection of themselves in the school each day,” Page said. “The bench was a way to greet them as they arrive each morning and depart each day.”
Page began taking measurements of the bench in the beginning of October. “Bringing the bench to life was hard to come by,” she said. “I looked through numerous images and paintings for inspiration. It took time for me to identify the story that it wanted me to tell. I would sometimes just sit and stare at the bench.”
“After spending time visiting the bench throughout various times of the day, I began to envision a space that would be kid-friendly, colorful, fun-loving and whimsical. My peers in CLASS helped me refine my vision through many series of dialogues, brainstorming and a little push. The final vision arrived after we placed the first coat of primer down.”
Page applied that first coat on Thanksgiving Day. She and her sons spent almost every morning of winter break there. “Sometimes it would be too cold, too wet, or too windy to paint, so we had to take multiple breaks, and the work extended into the New Year,” Page said,
In January, she continued her work when her children were in school. “I would start midmornings, and I would wrap up after the kids went home. The final coat of polyurethane went down on February 1, 2020.”
“As the FPGB family arrives at the school each day they will be greeted by sunrise and sunset that travels in a general direction from east to west,” said Page. “They will also find the FPGB schoolhouse is nestled safely between the paws of the flying lion who watches over the school and surrounding community. The school is centered in the middle of the community and is surrounded by vast landscapes, neighborhoods, and communities that make North Carolina home to us all.”
Page said, “The completion of the bench mural was accomplished with the help of my family and friends, CLASS facilitators and their families, student volunteers from Chapel Hill High School, and last but not least, a special thank you to the FPGB Leadership team who encouraged me and believed in my vision.”