A mural, a message, and the eight months in between

A mural, a message, and the eight months in between

By Tyler Dahlgren

John Lennon’s eyes were hidden behind those iconic sunglasses when Joselyn Andreasen put the finishing touches on the legend’s famous talisman necklace with her paint brush and took a step back.

There she was, a 2020 Blair High School graduate, standing in the most-traveled hallway of her alma-mater. More than nine months in the making, her mural was finally finished. Lennon was the final piece, joining Beethoven, Louis Armstrong, Elvis and Dolly Parton. The five transformational musicians flag a string of inspirational words that will move BHS students for years and years to come.

“Those musicians, the most influential ones through history, they impacted the world,” said Andreasen. “They changed culture.”

At that moment, Blair music teacher Jeff Mount turned the corner and, like the staff and student body at BHS had grown accustomed to doing, asked Joselyn how the mural was coming along.

“I looked at him, and I was just trying not to tear up, and I said ‘That’s it. That was the last thing,’” she said. “It provided a sense of closure to high school that we kind of missed out on.”

Andreasen is an artist. As a freshman, her talent quickly caught the eye of Blair art teacher Kari Schueth, but it was Joselyn’s general disposition that made an impact on the school’s art room.

“She was always happy and always willing to help and do whatever she was asked to do,” Schueth said. “Receptive, too. She was always very, very open to making things that she was working on better.”

So when Andreasen, a senior artist and Schueth’s teaching assistant, had an idea for a mural in the school’s hallway that houses the Bears’ athletic trophies and a heavy flow of foot traffic for athletic and extra-curricular events, the BHS staff was quick to jump on board. Andreasen had done something like it before, a coral reef mural in Schueth’s art room that turned out, as Joselyn puts it, “pretty good.” An understatement, perhaps.

“Joselyn just has such a very natural talent, and she is just so happy to use and to share that, and, of course, she’s very modest,” said Schueth. “She’s just a sweetheart.”

For the latter part of the first semester, while she was waiting final approval, Andreasen sketched in notebooks. When second semester started in January, she couldn’t wait any longer, approaching Assistant Principal Mark Gutschow to get the nod.

“He said, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go for it’,” she remembers. “Mr. Gutschow was super supportive of it all, and he’s a big reason why it didn’t get painted over during the closure. He knew how hard I’d worked on it and didn’t let that happen.”

From January to March, she’d spend four to five hours every other day on the mural, all the while gaining more and more interest, and, to her delight, encouragement from those around her.

“Back when we were in school, students would walk by and ask how it was coming along and tell me it looked great, and, at one point, I even had to put up a sign that said ‘I need to focus. I love you all, but I need to focus’,” Andreasens laughs. “Everyone was amazing. It was really cool to experience such a sense of community.”

The work was meticulous. Painting on a brick wall, Andreasen explained, is a lot different from painting on a canvas. The surface is slippery and porous. She first had to sketch in pencil before applying layers and layers of paint.

When schools abruptly closed in March, she had completed the globe, the banner, Beethoven and half of Louis Armstrong. What followed was a test in both patience and determination.

“For almost six months, I was just twiddling my thumbs, waiting and ready to get back in there because I knew that I needed to finish it,” said Andreasen, who was, at last, allowed back into the school just last week.

From there, it was a race against time. Andreasen was UNL-bound, but thanks to a 40-hour week, and more support from the staff that had returned to the building, she was able to complete the mural before heading off to college, where she’ll major in art.

“The staff was one of the main reasons I even could get it done,” Andreasen said. “There were times where I did get down on myself or let the timeline stress me out. I didn’t know if I’d get it finished. And every time, there’d be certain teachers, and, honestly, there’s too many to name off, that would walk by and say something uplifting. The custodians, too. They’d talk me up as they were walking past.”

The world looks different today than it did when Joselyn started this journey. Drastically so. In the era of social distancing, art, like it has throughout history, has an ironic way of bringing people closer together.

“These kids are getting ready to grow up and go out into the world, so seeing something like this on a daily basis, I would hope that would put a positive thought in their minds every day, each time they walk by,” Schueth said, adding that it’s an important part of an educator’s job to give students a voice. “They have great ideas. They’re the ones living it.”

For Andreasen, this mural was a journey. A labor of love and, in a way, a reflection of the Class of 2020’s perseverance. For those who will pass by it in the hallways of Blair High School in the years to come, the mural will serve as a reminder to dream, or, as Lennon famously urged of humanity nearly 50 years ago, imagine.

“I hope that people will see it as a voice of support, and a source of inspiration,” Andreasen said. “We all know that it’s important to be resilient right now, so it is nice that my mural went up when it did. It was coincidental, but in a good way.”

A project that started in January and endured a global pandemic had finally ended more than eight months later, but the story lives on.

In between two strokes of a paint brush.

In a mural that will long live to tell it.

Imagine that.