Dover School students use graffiti to express themselves

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DOVER — Two sixth-grade students were caught on camera spray painting the side of their school.

But they were far from getting in trouble. They were working with New York City-based artist Jason Naylor and wrapping up a project called "How Graffiti is a Form of Self Expression."

"It's definitely different than what I expected it to be," said sixth-grader Breck Bensin, who thought the paint would "expand more and go all over the place."

Breck said she spray painted with her father "just for a fun" a couple of times. Breck and sixth-grader Kelsey Thayer put their names on the wall before it was covered up with a message that will say Dover School's motto: "Work Hard, Be Kind."

"It's exciting to leave our mark here after we graduate," said Breck. "It was an honor to have [Naylor] here."

Kelsey said it was easier than expected to write her name in spray paint. She called Naylor's work "really cool."

"I think all graffiti has a meaning to it," she said, adding that every color in a given piece is "special in a way."

Naylor said it is sometimes difficult to work with schools since there can be a lot of "red tape" and too many "cooks in the kitchen." He estimated about 30 percent of the schools he engages in talks with about a project end up following through.

"This was real easy," he said.

Jennifer Tallini, art teacher, said the students interviewed her and asked her about what artists could show graffiti was not a crime. She suggested they look at Naylor's art.

Tallini had been following Naylor on Instagram, where projects include displays for clothing company Rag & Bone and lightbox panels for health/beauty company Sephora's Times Square store.

When Naylor made a post about how far a paint can will travel, Tallini told him about a wall in the gym that could use some art. She said she never thought he would reply but he did. He asked when and how a project could happen. Phone calls were made and the students received approval from the Dover School Board.

The students ultimately decided the outside wall facing the playground was an "appropriate space" for graffiti, Tallini said, noting the artwork would be seen by both the school community and visitors who come to use the play equipment.

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Funds for materials were raised on gofundme.com. Ray Reed of R Reed Construction Inc. loaned scaffolding. Parents donated to set Naylor up in a room at the Grand Summit Hotel at Mount Snow a few miles from the school.

Naylor volunteered his time. His message is "kindness and tolerance," said Tallini.

"So is IB's," said Susan Neuman, teacher and International Baccalaureate coordinator,

Neuman said the project had been introduced in a "transdisciplinary unit" on self expression as part of the IB curriculum at Dover School. Schools must get special certification to be considered part of the IB program, which includes creating a peaceful world among its goals.

This year's sixth grade class marks the second to graduate with IB diplomas.

"It's amazing the growth that is happening," said Neuman, recalling how Breck and two other students designed receptacles for fishing line and received approval from the Wilmington Select Board to put them at Lake Raponda.

Naylor said he enjoys working with schools.

"As adults, we walk away from the core values of art," he said, meaning "curiosity, exploration, ideas" and "innocence."

Innocence, he added, "enables so much invention."

Naylor likes to use a lot of black paint. He said it reinforces the art and "makes it pop."

His plan at Dover School was to use a lot of colors. Having started at about 10 a.m., he anticipated the project would be completed by sundown.

Naylor has been into art all of his life. He began making street art about 10 years, using paint brushes. He has been spray painting for about five years. He said it has changed his life.

"Spraying takes me to a meditative place where my troubles drift away and nothing else matters," he wrote on Instagram. "It's magical and glorious and I am so thankful I picked up a can and forced myself to learn."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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