Bret Harte mosaic

The new mosaic at Bret Harte Elementary, 1556 E. 56th St.

Hammer-wielding students at Bret Harte Elementary have broken enough tile and laid enough fragments to complete a geometric mosaic in front of their school, 1556 E. 56th St., funded with two grants: $10,000 from the Creative Schools Fund and $4,000 from the South East Chicago Commission.

Beth Herring with the booster organization Friends of Bret Harte came up with the idea; having seen the work at the Green Star Movement, a Chicago public art nonprofit, she thought it would be a good fit for the school. Now visible from both 56th Street and Stony Island Avenue, the mosaic, bearing the school's name with a sun as a focal point, is by far the largest artwork in or on the building.

Principal Charlie Bright said Bret Harte was at the time looking for ideas for a grant from the Creative Schools Fund, a partnership between Chicago nonprofit Ingenuity, the mayor's office and Chicago Public Schools. The school normally does a project around dance, but this year, Bright said, they wanted to do something different.

Thirty-five 4th- through 8th-graders made the mosaic.

"We wanted the students to have a role in it where it wasn't just a small role," Bright said. "The Green Star Movement came on Thursdays for about four hours. From 10 to 12 they would work with our middle school, and for another two hours they'd work with our 4th- and 5th graders. And we would just call groups down, they would meet with the Green Star Movement people, and then they would go through the process."

Kids, Bright noted, like to break things, and the Bret Harte students readily took to breaking bigger tiles up with hammers for placement on the building's facade. The students got to pick the mosaic's colors. They created the design blueprints.

"The pandemic sort of threw us off track. We thought it'd be up last year, but we just had the pieces. The shape had been down there for months, and we just had to wait for the green light for them to come in and do work," Bright said. "I wish more students were here to see it, but some of the students who were here who were part of the project, just to see their work go up, they've just been in awe."

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