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Good fortune brings mural to Castro School

By several strokes of good fortune, a once plain yellow wall at the front of Castro School now boasts a hand-painted mural.

The tiles that wrap around the tall letters spelling out “Castro School” were designed and painting through a partnership between a French artist and the students at the school. The tiles were set by teacher Dan Mac Donald with assistance from the artist and some of Mac Donald's students.

The school’s good fortune begins with its location, 7125 Donal Ave., which affords a spectactular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay, a blessing seldom noticed by the school’s kindergarten through sixth grade students. It did, however, draw the attention of Isabelle Delloye.

Delloye has studied and designed tiles since 1982 and been commissioned to do handmade tile murals in Paris and Berlin. She came to the United States in 1996 with her husband, a cultural attache at the French consulate in San Francisco, and is living in El Cerrito.

Delloye continued her ceramic work here. Her installed works include a mural at Domaine Carneros winery in the Napa Valley, tile signs at the Napa Valley Lodge and a playground mural at the French American International School in San Francisco.

After doing the French American school project she got the idea of doing a project in a public school, and involving the students in the project.

Castro’s location and diverse student body, Delloye’s recent work in landscapes, and her desire to do something to give back to the area before leaving in the year 2000 all come together in the project.

Delloye approached Castro School Principal Jeanie Harris, who was excited about a project that would depict the diversity of cultures among the students at the school.

Delloye prepared 648 five-by-five-inch tiles, plus 128 pieces of border. She painted the bridge, bay and surrounding landscape but reserved most of the tiles so that each of the approximately 400 students would have an opportunity to paint one.

Early in the school year, she began visiting Castro's classrooms, explaining her concept and giving each student a chance to prepare a tile.

Younger students sponge-painted tiles for the sky and drew pictures on paper of things they might see in the sky. Delloye took those ideas and added clouds, a rainbow, airplanes, hot air balloons and birds to the sky tiles.

Older children painted the foreground, reflecting interests such as skateboarding, jumping rope, sliding, swinging and playing ball. While each student had a tile, many of the students worked cooperatively so that the artwork on several tiles together make a cohesive scene.

Delloye volunteered her efforts, and contributors including Washington Mutual and Huntington Institute covered the cost of the supplies.

And by perhaps the most unlikely stroke of good luck, Dan Mac Donald was hired to teach at Castro this year. In addition to being a promising new teacher, a musician and an actor, Mac Donald happens to be an experienced tile setter.

Mac Donald has set tile for 21 years, with a break to go to college. He still does some tile setting "for unique and eccentric projects like Isabelle's or when I desperately need the money. (That would be all the time.)" He is in his first year teaching, through a Cal State Hayward internship program.

Amazingly, he seemed perfectly happy doing both jobs at once Dec. 2 when it came time to install Castro's mural. As he mixed the materials he needed and prepared the wall, his sixth-grade class sat quietly and listened to his explanations of what he was doing.

One of the downsides of tiling, he explained, is it can get lonely. That wasn't a problem as he worked at Castro. In addition to his own students, other classes filed by throughout the afternoon to witness the historic moment.

His students helped out by taping down paper to protect the brick below the mural, and using a level. Delloye, with her baskets of carefully packed and numbered tiles, assisted throughout the day. Helping with the prep work and handing Mac Donald the tiles in order, she was still there after nightfall as he set the last tile.

"I love the artistic and cooperative aspects of tile setting," says MacDonald. "I was fortunate to work with some wonderful people. I set (architect) David Baker's house under the auspices of Twyla Arthur. I also worked with her on the Kayo house that was published all over (Diablo, Il Bano). I tiled Stars, Zuni, and the Santa Fe Bar and Grill with the pure delight of working closely with (chefs and restauranteurs) Jeremiah Tower, Judy Rogers and Amid Benjati.

"My greatest moment was interfacing to the work of Guillermo Wagner at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco. All I did was tile up to his work and carefully remove a half inch strip eight feet long.

"Tile was a lot of fun, playing with colors, shapes, textures and cool people but then all the people would go home and I had to stay and finish it. Yuck!"

Teaching has provided Mac Donald an opportunity to pull together the variety of talents he has explored over the years.

"Teaching is a great way for me express myself. I was an amateur actor for eight years in Davis-Sacramento. I trained at ACT in their Summer Congress and loved it more than anything. Teaching gives me plenty of moments to act out in front of the kids. I'll also have more time to act in the summer. I never had time as a tile contractor.

" Teaching is a chance for me to play my guitar and sing for the students. I've been a songwriter since I was 12." Mac Donald has a CD listed at MP3.com. "I had a song that was number 7 on the alternative charts this year. It was very exciting," he says. "My page was getting hit 200 times a day with 120 downloads."

"Anyhow, I come to Castro and find out that my mentor teacher, Steve Kirby, has a band. He's a very good guitar player. A third grade teacher, Mark Medcalf, has a CD called 'Wide Open'. . .The (vocal) music teacher, Jeff Berrington, is the coolest. I'm in heaven. The whole faculty, staff and my dear principal, Jeanie Harris, are the greatest people to work with.

"There is a true sense of community at Castro."

Dan Mac Donald sets the last tile in Castro's mural.

* Delloye’s webpage

* Mac Donald's CD on line

Run dates: 1999-12-02 - 2000-01-01

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