Leaving their mark

Jill Fier/Register: Above, Audrey Harms stands in front of her completed mural in Richard Ganci’s English classroom at Brookings High School. Below, Tessie Braga-Henebry touches up her mural in Ganci’s classroom earlier this month.

Students paint murals in Brookings High School classroom

BROOKINGS – Two former Brookings students have left their mark on a Brookings High School classroom.

Audrey Harms and Tessie Braga-Henebry each painted a mural in the classroom of BHS English teacher Richard Ganci over the course of the past year.

Harms graduated with the BHS Class of 2019 on Sunday, and Braga-Henebry attended Brookings schools from seventh through 11th grades before her family moved to Michigan last summer.

The pair started planning in May 2018 and continued work as their schedules allowed – juggling school, activities and jobs – over the past year. They put in dozens of hours apiece.

Braga-Henebry’s mural, on the classroom’s south wall, represents mythologist Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.”

In the story pattern identified by Campbell, “any story about a hero, they go through this journey, this framework, that has different stages,” Braga-Henebry said.

She based her work, representing those different stages, on a series of graphic novels called “Zita the Spacegirl,” even going so far as to get permission from the author and illustrator via Facebook to use his characters in her work.

“I was able to use these stories, this overarching story that goes over three books, and I used what I thought of as Zita’s hero’s journey as my visual representation,” Braga-Henebry explained.

Braga-Henebry even traveled back to Brookings this spring, with her home-schooling work done for the year, to make improvements to her mural.

Harms’ work represents a “vast sea of thought and its possibilities” and is reflective of the tone in Ganci’s classroom, she said.

“I just looked at simple images of oceans and took inspiration from that. … I wanted something simplistic, monochromatic for this back wall,” she explained.

Harms said she learned as she went, in terms of materials, concept and technique.

Ganci had student artwork in his former classrooms, and when he was switching classrooms, he approached the girls last year for the two new murals to reflect his curriculum. 

“They both came in last summer with these unbelievable visions for this, and … I said, ‘What can I do to help?’ And so they went to work last summer and now I have an unbelievably comfortable and beautiful classroom with world-class art,” Ganci said. 

His curriculum focuses on writing, and he wanted an environment where students are encouraged and comfortable doing that.

“This type of work and commitment and talent is once in a generation, and to have that now for every kid who comes in here to write … to have it be colorful and meaningful and safe, that to me is an embarrassment of riches,” Ganci said. “This classroom is completely built by the students who took, are taking my classes, and it makes it great, and the writing has followed suit.”

Both students said they were honored to have been asked to do the murals, even though the request was daunting. Neither had done a piece that large before.

Both Braga-Henebry and Harms were heavily involved in the arts in school, and both will continue their studies in those areas at college.

Braga-Henebry plans to attend the University of Dallas for studio art and education. Harms is headed to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, studying scene design for theater, television and film.

Contact Jill Fier at [email protected]

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