Mural remembers Hughes, America

Seven Lawrence High School art students are learning first-hand the values expressed in Langston Hughes' poem, "Let America be America Again."

The poem, which stresses the need of working together to protect freedom, is the inspiration for a joint mural project between the students and Lawrence artists David Loewenstein and Lora Jost.

So far, the mural is in the planning stages. Students will begin painting Nov. 26 in a public demonstration at the Kansas University Art and Design Gallery.

The demonstration will be part of an exhibit of Loewenstein's work that opens today and continues through Dec. 5.

When completed, the mural will be displayed at the Lawrence Public Library beginning in mid-January. It then will be moved to Kansas University during the 100th birthday celebration of Hughes, who spent much of his childhood in Lawrence. KU is playing host to a symposium titled "Let America be America Again" Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 to 10.

The mural eventually will be displayed permanently at Lawrence High School.

Loewenstein and Jost began meeting with the students about a month ago.

"We spent two or three meetings just talking about (the poem)," said Rhiannon Beeson, a junior at LHS. "We were trying to come up with ideas to paint and pull things together so (the audience) can understand the meanings."

The students then began drawing images that could be included in the finished mural, which will be 7 feet by 14 feet on birch plywood. Possible images include a machine crushing people � representing the strong crushing the weak � and Americans representing different ethnic backgrounds.

In the poem, Hughes describes American dream of freedom but asserts "America never was America to me" and "There's never been equality for me, / Nor freedom in this 'homeland of the free.'"

Loewenstein, who has spearheaded similar collaborative projects in Ireland, New York and Arizona, said the goal is to help the public understand the poem by interpreting it with metaphors that still apply in today's society. He said allowing the public to watch the painting process will help them understand even more.

"My work is all about participation and collaboration," he said. "I don't want it to be the audience being at a show where you go and look and leave."

Rose Heckler, an LHS senior, said the project opened her eyes to Hughes' work.

"Langston Hughes is from Lawrence and not very many people know about him," she said. "He had some really good ideas, I think. I think it's important for people to know him better."

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