CB South Titan Mural Worth the Wait for Students as They Make their Marks

students and teachers stand before a colorful 20-foot mural of a cb south titan fashioned as a stained glass window

Casey Wood was a senior when she and a group of schoolmates conceptualized the colorful two-story Titan mural that now hovers over the back entrance wall at Central Bucks High School South.

She was a senior, too, when she and many of those same people from South’s Mural Club added the last few brushes of paint this summer to the 24-foot-tall mural of the school’s mascot depicted in a vibrant rendering of a stained-glass window, framed by a stone wall and marble columns providing three-dimensional effect.

The difference is that Wood is now a senior in college, majoring in communication and graphic design at St. Joseph’s University. And that mural, which started as a concept in the autumn of her senior year in high school, grew and transformed in ways the main 15 to 20 students who embarked on the original project never imagined.

“I've never had a project that I was working on for that long,’’ says Wood.

Due to the involved rendering of the details coupled with a 14-month interruption from Covid-19, the project took almost four years to complete. This mural was inspired by the impressive 2016 mural at South and a new club was started in 2018. Throughout the process, every step was student-driven under the guidance of mural co-advisors Stu Kesilman and Pat Balkit.

The 2016 mural included almost every aspect of South’s student life in it, and the mural group decided to go in a different direction for this second installation, using the South Titan mascot as the main subject. Student artists developed many concepts for months until they arrived at a final design, later split into 16 sections and projected onto primed parachute cloth to allow it to be painted in small sections, as opposed to painting directly on a two-story wall. Colors were designated with a “paint by number system” in preparation for anyone to contribute to the layout phase of painting, regardless of artistic ability.

“Mural Madness Weekend” was a community event in June of 2019, wherein more than 100 students, parents, alumni, teachers, staff, and others representing the entire South community took part. Participants personally painted the main color areas in the layout phase of the project. Later, the painted panels were refined and rendered by CB South Mural Club students.

View a photo slideshow of the mural's development.

“Although we originally hoped to do a mural with flat colors to get it done in the course of a year, the final design wound up with many involved artistic features that we knew would need more time to achieve,” says Stu Kesilman, who teaches digital graphic design art courses and advanced drawing and painting. “We had an incredible mix of talented students, who put in a ton of time over the first two years to make the stained-glass colors glow, give the stone depth, and many other aspects of the final painting.”

Planned for completion in June 2020, the mural took a 14-month hiatus during Covid, eventually gearing back up in fall 2021. When painting resumed, many of the original South students who graduated came back to paint on Saturdays, working alongside painters from the 2016 mural who brought their creative expertise to the project as well. These students were joined by current South students as the project neared the finish line.

Becca Hurly and Kelly Wang are artists and best friends who worked together on arts projects since middle school. Neither were in high school when the project began, but their passion for its completion influenced the timing of its post-Covid restart.

Pat Balkit, social studies teacher and mural co-advisor noted that the marble work had been an evasive thing to figure out, and when Becca and Kelly joined, “…it became very clear they had something working well with how they painted the marble, and they wound up being the marble duo.” Hurly and Wang went to work painting the two columns and framing stained class, painstakingly capturing the shading and color variations throughout the columns and arch.

“I just think we work well together,” says Wang. “We both know when to step back and when to let the other one lead, especially when one of us is frustrated.”

“It’s a good direction to go when you’re feeling frustrated,’’ agreed Hurly. “It’s nice to have that person you trust on something like this.’’

Kesilman, Balkit, Wang and Hurly worked through the summer of 2022 with students and alumni from 2016-2021 to finally finish the panels and install them before the start of the 2022 school year. Using an adhesive gel, the panels were positioned and fastened to a 20-foot by 24-foot wood structure provided by CBSD carpenters. On August 9th, after a 10-hour installation process, the mural was raised, along with the spirits of all of its contributors.

“The process that got us to the finish line is what we are most proud of,” adds Balkit. “Sure, the visual impact of the final product is what we had hope for, but the journey was fraught with challenges. The kids leaned on each other, never losing focus on our goal. That’s the foundation to building culture in a school.”

“It's really cool to walk by it every day and just be like, yeah, I just did that,’’ says Hurly.

Wood doesn’t get to walk by it every day, but just like her older sister, Julie, who worked on an earlier mural at CB South, she feels a heightened connectivity to her high school.

“I feel like going back was just so rewarding,’’ says Wood. “Seeing not just some of the people that I originally started with, but the new people joining too. They had no idea what the mural was when they first entered CB South, but they kept it going. And really, without them, it wouldn't have been completed.

“My sister always said that it was just kind of nice leaving your mark. I think I feel that way now too. I can come back here in the future and show our mural to whomever I’m with and say, ‘I was a big part of that.’"