Barrington students win national art contest

BMS students share message of conservation with winning mural

By Josh Bickford
Posted 2/28/24

Maybe it was the brilliant blues and oranges that filled the massive canvas. Maybe it was the important message of conservation and protection of an endangered species shared within the artwork.

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Barrington students win national art contest

BMS students share message of conservation with winning mural


Maybe it was the brilliant blues and oranges that filled the massive canvas. Maybe it was the important message of conservation and protection of an endangered species shared within the artwork.

Or maybe it was a combination of those two things that helped Barrington Middle School win a national art competition recently. 

On Wednesday morning, Feb. 14, BMS art teacher Kristin Anderson shared the announcement with a large group of eighth-graders during a special assembly in the auditorium. 

Anderson told the students that Barrington Middle School won first place in the middle school division of the Wyland Foundation National Mural Competition. 

“As an art teacher, this is kind of a big deal,” Anderson said, adding that there were more than 2,000 entries in the competition. 

In addition, Barrington Middle School eighth-grader Catherine Wilbur won second place in the individual artwork eighth grade category. 

“She did a great job,” Anderson said. “I’m really proud of her.”

The winning mural shows a bright blue sea set against an orange-yellow sunset sky. Whales — some breaching, some diving with only their tales shown — fill the water. Wind turbines fill the center of the mural, along with a large tanker ship.

And in the foreground, there is a whale, an obvious victim of a ship strike. Blood mixes in the water as the whale sinks to the bottom. 

A careful eye can make out the message of conservation, preservation and caution painted around the sun in black letters: “See a Spout, Watch out.”

“It’s exciting. We’ve tried before,” she said, referencing previous entries to the Wyland national competition. “This year, I really felt that this topic was the one. I think this is the topic, because this is something that everyone is talking about.”

Whale conservation and protection served as the key message in the second part of Wednesday’s assembly. Anderson invited Anne DiMonti from the Rhode Island Audubon Society to share a moving presentation titled "Tales about Whales: Reflections in Marine Conservation.” DiMonti said she was excited to share her message with Barrington students. 

“I’m going to be concentrating a lot on the North Atlantic Right Whale as a poster child to talk about all the issues whales are facing right now,” DiMonti said. “Right now there’s only approximately 350 of those animals left in the world.”

The North Atlantic Right Whale migrates along the eastern seaboard each year and is currently migrating back into northern waters after spending the winter months farther south. 

“They’re migrating back,” DiMonti said. “They spend their spring and summer with us. They’re starting to migrate into the area, so we’re starting to see them around the Cape and they’ll be in the Block Island Sound.”

DiMonti’s presentation — just like the message shared in mural — focused on two key issues facing whales these days: entanglement and ship strikes. 

Words of warning

DiMonti, who is the marine mammal expert for the Rhode Island Audubon Society, opened her presentation by explaining how important whales are to the ecosystem and the planet. 

She spoke about the challenges facing North Atlantic Right Whales. DiMonti said ship strikes and entanglement are the leading causes of whale deaths. She said 85 percent of Right Whales are scarred from ship strikes. 

DiMonti said people are working hard to identify ways to reduce or eliminate ship strikes and entanglement. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has created slow zones along the east coast in the shipping channels and is alerting boaters and mariners on how to avoid migrating whales. 

DiMonti said there is also an effort to create new underwater fishing pots that do not use vertical ropes, which are often entangled in whales. She showed a video of new ropeless fishing pots that allow fishermen to remotely trigger a buoy line once they are in the immediate area and ready to check the pots. 

DiMonti told the students that their generation will be leading the charge to save and protect whales in the future. She offered other ways they can help the whale population: keep trash out of the ocean, and buy products that use ropeless fishing. She also said science is not yet clear on the impacts of wind turbines on whales. DiMonti said that issue is still being studied. 

The Audubon presenter concluded with some positive news. DiMonti said there were 17 Right Whale calves born this year. She said an initial report indicated that one had been killed by a ship strike, but officials later learned that the baby whale had survived. She showed a brief video of the whale swimming with its mother. 

Mural winners

Finding the right topic to present through a mural was one challenge, Anderson said. Another was actually creating the large piece of art.

“The students were awesome,” Anderson said. “They were into it. They were really into it. They were excited about it. The mural didn’t start out that way. We had a different idea in the beginning. We even started sketching and painting, and then we stepped back and said ‘This is just not working.’ And that’s what happens in art, so there were a couple of revisions.”

Anderson said earlier drafts of the mural showed the cargo ship traveling horizontally across the ocean. She said it did not look great, so students re-worked the piece and made some changes.

The final product required a lot of cooperation.

“It’s hard because someone will come in and you have different classes. Some person will come in and paint a whale, and the next person comes in and decides to paint that whale. And then the other person comes back and goes ‘Who painted over my whale?’” Anderson said.

“It’s not like everybody has a spot. Everybody’s working. It’s a challenge. You have to be flexible. You don’t own it. Nobody owns it. We’re all just working toward the same goal, which is to make a beautiful mural, but sometimes there are mistakes or somebody does something you didn’t think was appropriate. But we have to make it work. It’s really a collaborative piece and you have to be flexible.”

In the end, the judges of the Wyland Foundation National Mural Competition selected the BMS mural as the winner. Hawaiian schools won first place in the elementary school and high school divisions this year. 

Anderson said contest officials believe this was the first time a school from Rhode Island won the competition.

“It seems like it’s always someone from California or Hawaii or Florida. It’s never Little Rhody,” Anderson said. 

Not until this year.

Anderson was particularly excited to see her parents were able to attend the assembly. She said she grew up in Mystic, Conn. and her father used to work at the Mystic Aquarium. In fact, he was the first person ever to train a Steller sea lion. During her presentation, Anderson showed a slide that had photos of her dad training the sea lion — male Steller sea lions can grow to weigh 1,700 pounds. 

“When my parents showed up (at the presentation), I went from a little bit of nerves to over the top,” she said, adding “It was really sweet.”

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