Magazine Feature

Art Fosters Healing

This reflection accompanies the feature story "Voices of Columbine."


Upon hearing of the Columbine High School tragedy, Virginia Wright-Frierson was affected as a mother and an artist. Further, her cousin, Ellin Hayes, a social studies teacher at Columbine, had taught seven of those slain.

Wright-Frierson immediately wrote to Hayes declaring she wanted to donate her talent, perhaps a mural for a new library.

The second-floor library was razed, opening up the lower food court into an airy space with 25-foot walls.

The group Healing of People Everywhere (HOPE), which oversaw raising funds for the atrium and new library, worked with a local architect in deciding how to create an inspirational atmosphere in the renovated area.

HOPE learned of the artist's offer. The Columbine librarian found an image from Wright-Frierson's 1999 book A North American Rain Forest Scrapbook, and shared it with HOPE.

Impressed with her idea of a primeval forest mural, HOPE made the decision to change the primal forest to that depicting Colorado's grand forests of aspens and evergreens. The artwork panels would be suspended from the atrium's ceiling.

The resulting image: A forest of 1,000-year-old trees converges in a circle. The emerald needles of evergreens and the golden leaves of aspens meld together as they stretch into a vibrant blue sky. At the center, shimmering sunlight replaces tragedy with peace. Nature provides comfort and inspiration.

"I tried to think about images that would be suitable for a school," Wright-Frierson said. "It wasn't supposed to be a memorial."

She completed the massive work in just six weeks; the fast pace was necessary for the 65-by-85-foot painting to be in place when school opened in August 2000.

The artist painted alongside her then-15-year-old daughter, Amy. "It was a life-changing experience for all of our family," Wright-Frierson said. "Our gift became a gift to us."

The painting, driven across country in a climate-controlled truck, was mounted on 20 panels ringed with another 20 panels depicting clouds. Wright-Frierson worked with numerous volunteers, including Columbine students and conservators from the University of Denver, to install the mural.

"I was glad to do it," Wright-Frierson said, "glad to give it to the school to help in a small way with the healing, with an image that would cause students and teachers to lift their heads and look up when they were in that room."

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