March 22, 2000

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


While titanic forces are struggling with each other over the future of the school district, it is often hard to remember the ideals that are needed at times like these. As a parent of students and an employee of the district, I see the turmoil from many sides. Some argue for getting rid of the few to save the many. Others want to preserve the top because every organization needs direction.

Perhaps a stroll around the high school would do everyone some good. By that I mean that on the walls of old Ely Memorial High School are some wonderful pieces of artwork. It must be remembered that Memorial High School goes all the way back to 1923. In 1926 the school installed six paintings. Two in the east and west stairwell were by Frederick Dielman and the two in the main entrance were by David Tive Workman. The final two are by the gym entrance and are by Charles Sprague Pearce.

In the 1920's America was in a good mood. It had recently won the largest war in the history of Mankind and our economy was rocketing ahead thanks to many new inventions, easy credit and almost no taxes. The forefathers of Memorial High School saw fit to decorate the main stairwells and front entrance with oil paintings inculcating virtues to survive a complex world.

All of the paintings are done in a neo-classical style. The architecture is that of ancient Greece. The clothes are primarily Roman, though there are some with clothes from the early part of the last century. It is a curious mix of the old and the new. The tone in all the paintings is somber and of high import. The themes are wonderfully shown in a plenitude of symbolism.

My favorite is the painting labeled "Industry" that can be seen on your left as you enter the main entrance of the high school. Looming large are three idealized entities representing Industrial Enterprise, World Commerce, and Agriculture. In the foreground are average people from the turn of the century laboring at practically every craft that you can think of. I can make out a several mechanics, an aviator, a mason, a miner, people of the soil, a teamster, and a printer. Several avocations I cannot make out for the life of me, as their tools are too obcsure to make out.

Another interesting painting is about History. Below it is the inscription, "History is a voice forever sounding across the centuries. The laws of right and wrong.. written on the tablets of eternity." The three figures represent the three components of History. Namely, Myth, Written History and Tradition. Upon two stone steles are carved names of classical and modern philosophers. Names such as Tacitus, Livy, and Thucydides, are immortalized along with Hume, Bancroft, and Gibson. I doubt if the average high school student would recognize even two names from the list. Times change.

The painting entitled "Law" is curious to me in that Justice is not blind. She is surrounded by six personifications of: Industry, Peace, Truth, Fraud, Discourse, and Violence. The only thing missing is a well-paid lawyer.

Another fine painting is on your left as you enter the high school. It is entitled "Education" and shows a robed graduate being escorted by the likes of Socrates down from the light of knowledge. On either side in the foreground are students involved with physical sports on the left and music on the right. The football player looks stunning in his old leather helmet. The artist was advanced in ideas by showing a female playing basketball. I thought the blonde girl playing a banjo looked odd, but maybe banjos were part of the band back in the 1920's.

I enjoy looking at these paintings when I get the chance. Some are on the opposite side of the building that I work on so it is a rare occasion, indeed, that I do see them. When I do it is like discovering a lost vision. It reminds me that everyone here at Memorial High School is here with a purpose. The students are here to learn the best that we have gathered from the many civilizations, which have existed before us. The adults are here to foster the student's learning. No other purpose is more important than that at this building. I appreciate the fact that I help support this learning. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the lessons learned playing an instrument or throwing a basketball are no less important than understanding physics. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that learning takes many different guises and it is a good school that tries to contain as many opportunities as possible.

Vision is another quality of the paintings. The humans that personify so many positive attributes of our society are always looking outward. They seek the future head on. It is "Vision" that I wish the school board and our administrators would try and concentrate on. We need keen vision to think outside the box. They need to ponder, as these paintings so well show, and come up with ideas and ideals for the school district to follow to safety.

I could give particulars on this subject, but I think it best that parents and everyone who feels an attachment to this great school district become involved. We need to create a new vision and a new way to continue the many programs and classes that students need. Our high school artwork is watching us and we need to show them that we are as creative as our forefathers were 77 years ago.


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