Tears filled Corrine VandenBerg’s eyes as she gazed at a colorful new mural that adorns the front of Payson Elementary School. For her, it is the fruition of a dream.
VandenBerg, PES’s music teacher, couldn’t hold her emotions in at a recent unveiling of the mural.
“It brings tears to my eyes every time I see it,” she said. “I can’t even talk about it. I have no words. I’m so grateful. Thank you doesn’t seem appropriate.”
The entrance area, formerly a dull brown wall and a garden area overrun by weeds, just didn’t do the school justice, she said.
She believed students and staff deserved something more inviting.
“I started seeing photographs from other schools where teachers had decided to brighten up their school,” Vandenberg said. “And this being a K-2 school with 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, it was important to me to make it look like a fun, inviting, warm, welcoming place to come to learn.
“And when I got here there was a brown wall. There was nothing fun and warm and welcoming about that at all. I thought, ‘Why can’t it be fun and kid-friendly? It can be.’
“So I just decided I was going to go for it. And God helped me, because he brought me all the people I needed and boom, away we went.”
She needed lots of help and got it with parents, teachers, community members and business owners volunteering their time and materials.
Things really started moving when she met the Wilson family, or “Six Gal ’n Hat,” as they’re known musically.
Members of the family musical group were volunteering at Payson Public Library when they heard about the mural.
They first met VandenBerg when they visited the school in September to help students paint personalized rocks to place in the garden.
“She’s indescribable,” said Shelly Wilson of VandenBerg. “She’s totally committed. She knows how to navigate any situation. She’s my idol.”
The family, who offers face painting at Payson’s Farmers Market each Saturday in the summer, took VandenBerg’s general idea and went to work painting.
The mural stretches across the entire wall. It’s such a large piece of art that it is easy to miss the details unless you stop to take a closer look.
There is the giant tree on the left side of the mural adorned with colorful flowers, fairies, a rabbit and mushrooms. There is a door in the tree trunk and a welcome mat that stretches onto the sidewalk below the wall.
On the right side of the mural is the Mogollon Rim covered with a thin layer of snow.
The sun, with orange, red and pink rays, dominates the left of the mural, while a blue night sky featuring a man in the moon, stars and constellations spreads out across the top right.
Painted in purple letters on a white background high in the center of the mural above a longhorn symbol is the phrase:
“There’s only ONE you!”
That statement is at the heart of the project. And it’s hard to miss. But it’s the small details that really make the mural shine.
“This is my favorite part,” VandenBerg said pointing to a squirrel. “Doesn’t it look so real? This reminds me of my grandma. She fed them.”
She pointed out other details like a mailbox next to the door in the tree trunk.
“We wanted the date on it so I said, ‘Can you guys paint me a mailbox and put the date on it as the address?’” VandenBerg said.
The brick walls in the area were also transformed.
The front wall has come alive with butterflies painted in a blue sky and bunnies and plants in the rolling hills.
A lower side wall features words like kindness, care, love, trust, joy and responsibility in multiple colors on a green background.
And painted tractor tires are now used as benches.
As much as it has changed, the project isn’t finished.
The Wilson family plans to add to the mural and add new planters in September.