Gunnison elementary students team up to leave legacy project

For what is likely the coldest weeks of the year, Gunnison Elementary School students have brought the “Seasons of Gunnison” alive in color.

For weeks, young artists in Liz Wallin’s and Rain Bodine’s first through fifth grade classes have hovered over two stretches of silk material totaling 300 feet. The colorful illustration features various aspects of the valley at different times of the year.

“Rain and I see all grade levels every day of the week and decided to assign each day a season,” said Wallin. “For example, Monday was fall, Tuesday was winter.”

The art of silk painting dates back to the ancient Orient, and has several steps. The classes took three weeks to complete the process.

Each class had butcher paper and practiced drawing what it was they enjoyed doing in the season they were given. One third grader who was assigned the fall season drew his dad’s big horn sheep that he hunted this past fall. Students then used the butcher paper as a "planning step" before even touching the silk.

In week two, students applied “gutta” over the lines drawn on the silk. Gutta is a sappy, waxy substance and is water resistant. By painting closed shapes, such as circles, the gutta prevents paint on the silk from running. Gutta takes 30 minutes to dry, and once the lines are completed on the entire mural, the painting can begin — which took place in week three.

“What a step that was!” said Wallin. “Instant vibrance, ‘oohhs and aaahsss’ and mess. It was absolutely gorgeous and we learned by the act of doing so it all really came together as we painted.”

But the project wasn’t exactly an easy undertaking. The two scrolls of silk, said Bodine, alone cost about $1,200, with an additional $500 going toward paint. Money was raised through the “Art to Remember” fundraiser held every fall. 

“It took several years to raise the money to purchase the materials for this project,” Bodine wrote in an email. “Every student in the elementary participated — 22 classes painted one stretch of 14 feet of silk.”  

The mural will be installed in the atrium of the Gunnison Community School, connecting both the elementary and middle school side, later this month. Parents will be able to view the colorful art during teacher conferences scheduled in March.

Beyond the beautiful art that both students and community members will enjoy for years to come, Wallin sees larger lessons in the project. She said students learned to be a part of something bigger story — such as a legacy piece of artwork which will be left in the school for years to come. They also learned how to unify behind a group endeavor.

“Our artists had to be team players and patient as our art studio was crammed, our tables to sit and work were out and we could not touch the silk. It is so delicate,” Wallin said. “We learned to work together to create something that is beautiful for so many to enjoy.” 

(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at