Artist collaborates with New Paltz Middle School students to complete new mural

Principal Ann Sheldon and Assistant Principal Daniel Glenn. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The walls located outside of the Student Support Center at the New Paltz Middle School (NPMS) have come alive with a new mural that is rife with vibrant colors and local imagery. “It’s the first thing the students and faculty see when they walk through the doors and the last thing they see when they leave,” said NPMS vice principal Daniel Glenn, who was the person who first put the mural artist, Joe Pimentel, in touch with the Parent/Teachers’ Association and the school district to see if they could turn a bare wall into a lasting visual legacy.

Glenn knew Pimentel from his time working in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District. “He was a local artist who also worked as a substitute teacher,” said Glenn, adding that, after taking the position at New Paltz, he began to see the work that Pimentel was doing with other school districts in the region to create collaborative murals with students. “I saw a picture of a mural that he had done on Facebook and thought, ‘We need one of those here!’”

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Glenn contacted the artist, and after Pimentel saw the space, he gave a presentation to both the school board and the PTA. They liked what they heard: his suggestion, as a Parsons School of Design graduate and someone who has worked with children and art for years, that the students sketch out what they thought represented their school community and local culture. He would then create a mural design based on elements from those sketches.

“That wall was screaming to become pretty,” said Jennifer Voorhis, the vice president of the PTA, who also has two twin daughters in the eighth grade. “We decided to focus on the eighth-graders because they are the ones that have lived through all of this construction, and thought this would be a way for them to leave a parting gift and legacy to the school,” she said. “We were fortunate that we could co-sponsor it with BOCES and the school district, and felt that it was such a great thing to put the money we had raised towards.”

Glenn explained that Pimentel came in September of 2019 for an assembly with the eighth-graders. “He talked about his background and his life as a working artist and answered all kinds of great questions from the students,” said the vice principal. All of the eighth-grade students were asked to submit a sketch as part of their Social Studies curriculum. Those sketches were then collected by Pimentel, and he created a design for the mural that the students, if they chose to, could help to paint themselves.

“We had different schedules and time set aside where they could come and paint with him, which they really enjoyed doing,” said Glenn. “We wanted them to be reflected in the mural and to help create something that was unifying and inclusive and inspirational.”

The mural includes local imagery like the Smiley Tower on Sky Top and cornfields and sunflowers that the Ferrante family plants along the Flats each summer. There are silhouettes of many students holding hands and rays of sunshine streaming across the Shawangunk Ridge, as well as an arching rainbow bending into the fields. The style is somewhat impressionistic, but also has elements woven in that are directly symbolic, like hands wrapped around the Earth and a mandala, as well as the New Paltz logo. It wraps around three walls and creates a glow when students walk into the school.

“I created a number of series, perpetually finding new ways to transform the recognizable into detailed, complex images that were rendered with the intention of giving insight into other imagined planes of existence,” stated Pimentel of various series that he has created over the years after graduating from art school and traveling and working with children and delving into his craft. “The work was attempting to convey some essence, some rooted feeling or perception of possibility, by combining the abstract with realism and adding layers of intricacy that could be interpreted in a variety of ways.”

“I’m thrilled with the result,” said Voorhis, who explained that the PTA fundraises all year through membership drives and Spiritwear sales, Co/Rec dances and local discount coupon books so that they can support projects like this. “It represents our values, who we are, who we want to be,” she said.

“He worked on this over winter break, and by the first week in January it was completed,” said Glenn. “I think people are thrilled with it: the students, the teachers, the parents. Every time I walk past it, I see something new, something I hadn’t noticed before. I think it lends a sense of solidarity, and it’s just amazing to see something on paper come to life like that and continue to do so every day.”

To learn more about the artist, go to www.joepimentelart.com/about.

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