A formerly bare stairwell at Denkmann Elementary School been transformed into a colorful, magical forest.

Part of the new mural shows playful mushroom homes (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The Rock Island High School students who created the sprawling mural (at 4101 22nd Ave., Rock Island) were recognized in an all-school assembly Friday morning at Denkmann’s gym.

Denkmann teacher Jessica Stockwell shows off chalk art by Delaney Carroll at a school assembly Friday., Jan. 13, 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Denkmann teacher Jessica Stockwell met Delaney Carroll last summer at the Chalk Art Fest at Rock Island’s Schwiebert Park, very impressed with her sidewalk work. After seeing such talent from Delaney and other Rock Island High School students at the festival, Stockwell reached out to Delaney and asked if she would be interested in doing a mural at Denkmann.  

“It seemed like a great opportunity for students from our community. We have so many talented students right here in Rock Island and their work deserves to be seen,” Stockwell said.

Delaney (a junior) connected with two other Rocky students — junior Norah Wright (she/her), and senior Vix Dang (they/them) — and that’s how the mural team was formed. The insanely talented trio all worked on Metro Arts murals this past summer in downtown Davenport (at 4th and Pershing).

Rocky senior Vix Dang, left, with junior Delaney Carroll at their Denkmann Elementary mural (not pictured is Norah Wright, who also worked on it), Friday, Jan. 13, 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Stockwell told the students at the assembly that the new forest mural is an amazing addition to the school that will last forever.

“I really appreciate how dedicated you were,” she said to Vix and Delaney. “It’s beautiful, it’s inspiring, it’s colorful. It just makes you happy when you walk by it. Thank you so much. We’ll cherish it forever.”

Delaney, Vix and Norah (who couldn’t attend Friday’s event because she was sick) spent a couple of months working on the mural, coming in on weekends and evenings between practices and school activities.

The mural, shown in its early stages. was finished during Christmas break.

Delaney also is an advanced student at the Figge Art Museum’s Art Academy. She attends classes weekly and studies beyond the programming offered at her high school. 

Picking a nature theme

“The idea for the mural kind of came out of nowhere,” Delaney said Friday. “They had their plants here and we already liked the natural elements they had going on, so we played off that.”

Vix and Delaney worked together on Quad City Arts Metro Arts murals in downtown Davenport this past summer (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Vix and Delaney have loved art since they were little, and Vix worked on a Metro Arts mural in summer 2021 in Rock Island near the Arsenal Bridge Delaney also won an award in the Chalk Art Fest in summer 2021.

The artists picked a nature theme, playing off the existing plants on the stairwell window sill (photo By Jonathan Turner).

“The first actual mural I had done was the Metro Arts mural last summer and this,” Delaney said. “Art is something I’ve always enjoyed doing.”

They wanted to make the mural whimsical and cartoonish, including making the mushrooms into little houses with doors and windows. There’s a book feature on one wall with a check list of what kids can look for, with the Rocky students’ signatures.

Delaney said they did sketches separately in late August before working on the walls, and then started with chalk on the walls.

They painted from around Thanksgiving until right after Christmas.

Some days, they spent four hours on the mural. “It went by really fast, for me at least,” Delaney said.

“It’s absolutely mind-blowing to me,” she said of finishing the Denkmann art. “Kids will come up to me and say it’s really cool. It’s just really cool to even have this opportunity and have that impact on them.”

“Having something like this to show that I can make money off of this, and like make this a really important part of myself is really cool,” Delaney added. “Metro Arts was really cool, but that was a lot of people. This was just the three of us – it’s not an organization, it’s just us.”

Vix said this process was more manageable and easier to control than Metro Arts, since they could work just the three of them, though it took more time. “My passion for art came from reading, where I could create things from my imagination,” Vix said.

The mural includes a checklist of things the kids can look for, as an I Spy Challenge (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“I love all the insects that we added,” Delaney said. “All the details were really fun to add, because the kids will come up and look for them.”

Booster Club support

Denkmann’s Booster Club (through the Rock Island-Milan Booster Club) provided $670 and the Denkmann PTA gave $250 for art materials and a small compensation for the students’ time.

Stockwell also appreciates this funding, which provides invaluable support for extracurricular projects like this.

“They’re an organization that is here for us, for our students,” she said of the Booster Club. “They have money, lots of money and they want you to ask for things like that. I wrote a grant and presented it for this and they gave me all the money I wanted to be able to buy the paint and supplies.”

“It’s gorgeous, I absolutely love it,” said Crystal Wiese, treasurer of the Rock Island-Milan Booster Club. “To give teachers money, it’s exciting. We don’t just help sports.”

Wiese said more teachers should take advantage of funding that’s available. “People don’t approach us because they don’t know about us,” she said, noting requests can be made by emailing rockislandmilanboosterclub@yahoo.com.

The project is dedicated to all the students; especially those who want to become artists.

“In Rock Island, we know it’s hard to find art resources — especially in the elementary schools. They don’t have art classes anymore,” Delaney said. “Mr. Versluis was excited for our project,” she said of Denkmann principal Patrick Verlsuis.

“He wanted Denkmann students to see local students who have had the same opportunities as they do and how we worked to meet our artistic goals. We want to inspire them to continue to work towards their goals and follow their passions, even when it is not easy.”