Montgomery County's Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Unveils New Murals

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1956 members Art Elgin, left, and Jonda McFarlane, right, chat with Principal Karen Lockard at the murals' unveiling last Thursday. Asbestos forced the removal of the original murals in 1999.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1956 members Art Elgin, left, and Jonda McFarlane, right, chat with Principal Karen Lockard at the murals' unveiling last Thursday. Asbestos forced the removal of the original murals in 1999. (By Naomi Brookner -- The Gazette)

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By Bradford Pearson
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2009

From the 1940s to 1999, the walls of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School were covered in murals depicting sports, literature, Montgomery County history -- you name it.

When asbestos was discovered in the mural walls in 1999, the murals were destroyed, and all that remained of them was a few photographs.

But a group of dedicated alumni, students, parents and administrators thought the painted murals should return, and last Thursday they unveiled a new set, including an exact replica of one of the originals.

"B-CC has always been a great school, and these murals help preserve those memories," said Jonda McFarlane, a 1956 graduate and former teacher at her alma mater. "This will help the students remember their history."

McFarlane was part of a committee that spearheaded the project to replace the murals. She solicited money from her class and found an artist -- Katie Freeman Vita, a Chevy Chase resident and parent of a former student-- to re-create one of the old murals. It shows the high school as it was in the 1940s: boys wearing ties to class, bonfires that the school used to host during pep rallies, a clock showing the old 9 a.m. start time for class.

After Freeman Vita finished the $5,000 mural, though, something was missing.

"Students kept coming up to me and asking, 'Why's everyone white?' " Principal Karen Lockard said of the mural. "It was an interesting lesson in social history . . . but then we knew we should do something that represented B-CC today."

So Freeman Vita and eight art students from the school designed and painted a mural depicting Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 2009. The design was the same -- three panels, illustrating student life -- but after that, things took a turn toward the 21st century.

Replacing an old version of the school newspaper is a computer with the Web site Wikipedia on the screen. A student walking into the main entrance has a Barack Obama pin on his backpack. And the students represent the current racial makeup of the school.

"We really wanted the mural to show 2009," said Laura Sheys, 17, who graduated this year.

"It's a historic statement," added Caroline Walker, 17, also a graduate this year.

The two murals sit side by side in the school's main foyer.

In addition to the funds raised by the class of 1956, the B-CC Educational Foundation and the school's PTSA also donated money. The canvases for the murals were designed and donated by Lockard's husband, David.

"You do see that a lot has changed, but most things don't change," McFarlane said. "Sure, there's a little technology, but there are still sports and chorus. It's still the same flavor."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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