Mosaic at Douglas High School not part of the remodel, to be addressed at June school board meeting
Salvaging a mosaic wall that has been in front of Douglas High School since 1953 was not included in the latest construction plans in the school’s remodel — and that has some members of the community concerned.
“If we can save it, we’d like to,” Winston-Dillard School District Superintendent Kevin Miller said. He said he’d welcome people to the June 17 school board meeting to discuss options.
Student Body Vice President Lucas Van Dermark said he hopes to appeal to the school board at that time to put salvaging the mosaic back in the budget.
“It’s something that I feel should have been included,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been taken out, it should’ve been on the priority list to be included. You can’t rebuild history.”
Members of the Douglas High Alumni Facebook group also talked about saving the mural. Nancy Peete posted, “This mural is part of every DHS Alumni, and truly a part of all of us. It has great meaning. It should not be torn down. It was built with love, and should remain for all of our future generations to learn, live, and enjoy.”
The school passed a bond levy in May 2019 to remodel or redesign most of the high school, but preliminary budgets showed construction costs went up significantly between the time the levy was passed and the start of the project. According to the minutes of the May meeting, “Salvage of the mosaic wall was deleted from the final draft, due to cost.”
Salvaging the wall was just one part of the project that was eliminated after the district was forced to make cuts due to increased construction costs. Another item that was removed between the initial plan and the latest plan was a $125,000 emergency generator. At the April board meeting the cost for preserving the wall and moving it near another art installation near the cafeteria was estimated to be around $24,000.
“(The wall) has to move, because that’s going to be part of the parking lot,” Miller said. “They still have to move it, but to relocate it, they’d have to put in new footing and it’s a good-sized wall. Nobody really knows what’ll happen once we try to move it.”
The mosaic was installed at the school 66 years ago “to pay tribute to the board by decorating the school with these murals that expressed the country’s civilized beliefs at a time when the country was experiencing the wrath of McCarthyism,” according to an interview between the creators and former Superintendent of Winston Public Works Eric Wilson. An earlier construction plan showed the school wanted to create an area where all three of the mosaics would be placed together near the cafeteria wall.
Miller said the wall has steel reinforcements in the ground, but that it’s uncertain how difficult it will be to move the 66-year-old wall. To create the mosaics, tiles were laid out on paper before steel and concrete were added, according to Wilson’s book, “Snapshots Along the Umpqua.”
Wilson met with two of the creators of the mosaics, Leonard Kimbrell and Howard Glazer, in 2005. It was then the third mural was rediscovered and, according to Wilson, it “evokes a statement against the war in Korea.”
The creators of the mosaics did not attend Douglas High School and do not have any ties — other than the art they created — to the area. They were students at the University of Oregon.
There are murals on both sides of the mosaic wall in front of the school that will be removed some time next summer.
One mural shows five religious symbols at the top — representing Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Confucianism — as well as a smiling sun, a fruit-bearing tree, seven white doves in flight and four different colored figures that Wilson speculated represented the four fundamental races. The quote “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren,” accompanies the imagery.
The quote is the first part of a famous quote by English-born American philosopher and political activist Thomas Paine who said, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
On the opposite side of that same wall was a symbol of the world with a white hand shaking a hand of different colors, accompanied by the Thomas Jefferson quote, “Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error.” To the left of the image are 10 symbols, one of which spells out “peace” in morse code.
Several community members have spoken out against the school board’s decision to remove it from the construction budget, saying the mural celebrates the end of racial segregation. No research shows that race played a role in the creation of the monument, but Van Dermark said the mosaic shows that “in a time of unrest, people came together.”
“It represents a huge cultural historic time,” Van Dermark said. “It comes from the 1950s. It was before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. The fact that the mural stands and has everyone united says a lot about the school and those who were supportive before it was required.”
Brown v. Board of Education, which would legally end segregation in schools, was passed in 1954.
According to information from the Oregon Department of Education, 100% of the teaching staff at Douglas High School in 2018-2019 was white, while 83% of the student population was white. The high school was also home to students who identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native (1%), Asian (1%), Hispanic (9%), multiracial (5%) and native Hawaiian (1%). The school district as a whole was also predominantly white, with 84% students identifying as such and 94% of teachers.
Van Dermark said he’s not opposed to moving the mosaic. He is also prepared to do fundraising if necessary, but hopes the school district will see the importance of keeping the art.
The wall will likely be up for at least another year, as its removal is scheduled during the second part of the demolition. Construction on the new high school has already started at the gymnasium where new floors have been installed, and abatement has started in the upper hall.
Miller said he hopes to have an idea by August whether salvaging the wall will need to be included in the construction.