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Spotlight on Brenda Sywalski

Oct. 18, 2017

Brenda Sywalski and one of her art students Rachel Whitbeck stand together.“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Those words by Pablo Picasso certainly reflect the results of the project recently completed by Monticello High School art teacher Brenda Sywalski.

Superintendent Tammy Mangus asked Sywalski if she would paint a mural to put on the bus garage, which sits on Forestburgh Road visible to all who pass by the district. The building was in big need for some sprucing up. Sywalski jumped at the offer.

Being an artist, coming up with the concept for the mural was the easy part for Sywalski. She wanted it to tell a story, to present a narrative of how people got here to Monticello schools with transportation playing a key role.

The first of the five panels represents the global community and shows different modes of transportation – including boat and even turtle!

The second panel is an ode to beautiful Sullivan County.

“It shows how everyone heads to school, buses meandering through the mountains, Route 17, even the boat at Swinging Bridge Lake and the gazebo in Wurtsboro,” said Sywalski. “Our local communities are represented.”

The third panel is called “The Beginning” as it shows the entryways to the three elementary schools in the district.

The fourth panel is “The Middle,” representing the middle school complete with its garden and local scenes in the background.

Finally, the last panel is the final journey in the district, showing everyone graduating into the world.

The mural on the bus garageIn total, the mural is four feet high and 30 feet long, each panel being six feet long. Sywalski sketched each panel to scale on an overhead projector sheet. She projected each section of the mural onto the full size board and painted it with acrylic paint. Voila! The completed mural was hung in late September.

Sywalski got some help from some of her art club students, including Rachel Whitbeck, a senior preparing to apply to art schools.

“It was awesome,” said Rachel about her part with the mural. “It’s a really nice way to bring art to the district. It represents Monticello.”

Sywalski’s journey to art wasn’t a difficult one for her to find. “I always liked to draw and make stuff,” she said. In middle school, right here in Monticello, the deal was sealed for her. “I was in Mrs. Kavaleski’s class in middle school. I remember thinking ‘This is so cool.’ We were making Styrofoam geometric forms and I thought, ‘This is real’.”

While she continues to impart her creativity and knowledge on students – she’s been teaching art for 30 years – she also continues to grow herself as an artist. Last year, she took a four-week summer program at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. She learned, among other things, web design. She currently teaches it to her students, along with digital art, animation, 3D modeling and studio and art. She also serves as the Art Club advisor.

“I love watching the kids improve and grow through their work,” said Sywalski. “That’s what’s so cool about teaching high school. You see the students from freshman year through senior year.

Under the mural she created are these words: “You are here to enable the world, to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement… You are here to enrich the world.” Sywalski believes in them.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from. We’re all going to come together and enrich the world.”

This district and the entire community thank Brenda Sywalski for the beauty and enrichment she brings to us.