Mural of Viking ship on stormy seas honors Geneva High School's Class of 2020

  • Local artist Danielle Casali designed the mural displayed on a wall at Geneva High School honoring the Class of 2020.

    Local artist Danielle Casali designed the mural displayed on a wall at Geneva High School honoring the Class of 2020. Courtesy of Lori Schmidt

  • The Geneva High School community came together to create a mural, rich with symbolism, honoring the Class of 2020.

    The Geneva High School community came together to create a mural, rich with symbolism, honoring the Class of 2020. Courtesy of Danielle Casali

  • Maeve Petersen, left, Faith Petersen, center, and Sophie Lietz were among the many Geneva High School students who helped create a mural honoring the Class of 2020.

    Maeve Petersen, left, Faith Petersen, center, and Sophie Lietz were among the many Geneva High School students who helped create a mural honoring the Class of 2020. Courtesy of Lori Schmidt

 
 
Updated 9/28/2020 6:36 AM

Geneva High School parents aimed for something special to honor the Class of 2020.

They displayed yard signs highlighting graduates' names. The exterior of their homes glowed with blue and white light bulbs to represent the school colors. Graduates wore caps and gowns for a socially distanced celebration walk down 3rd Street.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Yet parents thought it still wasn't enough, not after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled nearly everything the seniors looked forward to as their time in high school wound to a close.

No prom. No graduation. No sense of closure.

"The students felt so disconnected and they felt like they'd be a forgotten class," said Lori Schmidt, the mother of a senior from the Class of 2020. "We kind of brainstormed to figure out what we could do."

Ultimately, Schmidt and six other parents formed the Class of 2020 Legacy Art Mosaic Project to create a mural for a main hallway wall at the school. They found a local artist to design a symbol-filled mural of a Viking ship navigating turbulent waters and worked with an art teacher, who recruited student volunteers from the Class of 2020 and other grades to help paint it.

It became a community project to leave a legacy.

"They felt like they were leaving their mark in a really positive way after having such a weird end of the school year," said art teacher Megan Kelly. "It was great working with some of my students again after not seeing them in so long because the school was shut down.

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"I'm hoping it becomes this art tradition within the building. People coming together in a collaborative way to make a piece of art that's symbolic."

Danielle Casali is a local artist who specializes in murals and mosaic tile. Even though she didn't attend Geneva High School, she felt a connection to the project after research helped her come up with the perfect design based on Geneva's mascot.

The design features a Viking ship on stormy seas as a sea monster tries to pull it under the water. The ship -- with a Nordic compass rose and mythological ravens on the sail -- keeps persevering through the struggle.

That perseverance, Casali believes, epitomizes a senior class that navigated the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic.

"I wanted to do justice to those seniors and what they went though, but at the same time I wanted it to have a positive outlook and message, and have it be something that's timeless and not necessarily bogged down by COVID," Casali said. "I knew the Swedish history in Geneva and I was looking through Viking history to get some ideas. There's symbolism throughout the whole mural."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

From the mountainous background to the mosaic tile spread throughout, no detail was ignored. The starry sky in the mural is based on the actual alignment of the stars over Geneva on graduation day in May.

Numerous students worked on the mural in August as they tried to finish before the first day of school. They had to work in small shifts and wear masks because of COVID-19 restrictions, but they finished in plenty of time.

"I wanted to contribute to the school in some way because I knew I was leaving," said Josh Spencer, a member of the Class of 2020 who put in about 20 hours painting the mural. "I really enjoyed coming back and seeing the people there. It was nice to close out the year in a way that was meaningful. I was proud to be a part of it."

Schmidt said the next step is to order a plaque and have a ceremony dedicating the mural.

Generations of future students will walk by the mural and remember what the Class of 2020 symbolized and endured.

"Even though their high-school experience ended so horribly, their life's journey is still ahead of them and they have so much to look forward to," Schmidt said. "The seas will turn calm."

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