‘A declaration of the new name’

After renaming, Justice Page Middle School unveils four student-drawn murals

Justice Page Middle School mural
Justice Page Middle School art teacher Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl and students in her elective murals classes unveiled last month the murals they created for the school's exterior. Two of the works measure 18 feet tall and 13 feet wide, and two are 31 feet tall and 13 feet wide. Each includes designs and patterns students said represent the diversity of the school. Photos by Nate Gotlieb

Justice Page Middle School families got their first look May 23 at four student-created murals that will soon be pasted on the building’s exterior.

Art teacher Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl and students in her elective murals class unveiled the pieces during an open house. Several dozen parents and students were on hand to see the works, which Cedarleaf Dahl will install in August over the building’s entrances on 49th and 50th streets.

“The thing I’m most proud of is the way the students owned it,” Cedarleaf Dahl said. “They’ve really tried to make it the best it can be.”

The unveiling came about eight months after Cedarleaf Dahl’s students began working on the project, which took the entire school year. It also came nearly two years after the Minneapolis School Board approved renaming the school after Alan Page, the former Minnesota Vikings star who became the first African-American justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Justice Page Middle School mural

The board vote was the culmination of a yearlong, student-led campaign to rename Ramsey Middle School. Students objected to the school being named after Alexander Ramsey, who called for the extermination of Minnesota’s Dakota people while serving as governor during the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War.

Cedarleaf Dahl, who helped lead the “Rename Ramsey” campaign, said she wanted to create a higher-profile way of displaying the school’s new name than just a new monument sign. She and her students designed the murals this fall and spent the spring painting them in 5-by-5-foot squares. Seventh-grader Freddy Proell likened the process to painting a “giant coloring book.”

Two of the murals measure 18 feet tall and 13 feet wide, and two are 31 feet tall and 13 feet wide. Each includes designs and patterns students said represent the diversity of the school, and two feature images of Alan Page sporting his signature bowtie.

“This to me is a declaration of the new name in a way that shows how excited we are about it,” Cedarleaf Dahl said.

Justice Page Middle School mural

Proell, who was part of Cedarleaf Dahl’s elective murals class, said doing a project this large was overwhelming at first but that it got easier when he realized how many students were involved. He said the hardest part is making sure the 5-by-5 squares line up.

Parents appeared impressed by the murals. Adam Marshall said he can’t wait to see them installed. Jason Gjevre said the project inspired his daughter to want to do more with murals.

“Just the fact that they got the chance to do this is cool,” he said.

Cedarleaf Dahl used a $10,000 grant she received from the John & Denise Graves Foundation to work on the project. The Graves Foundation awarded her the grant as part of the Minneapolis Leadership Education Awards program, which it runs with the nonprofits AchieveMpls and Educators for Excellence.

Justice Page Middle School mural

Cedarleaf Dahl also used funds donated as part of the “Rename Ramsey” campaign.

Installing the murals will take about two weeks, Cedarleaf Dahl said, and she plans to work with muralist Greta McLain during the process. The cloth canvasses used for the works have an approximately 25-year life cycle, she said.

Alan Page has been involved in the project, Cedarleaf Dahl said, noting that he brought his four grandkids to a community-painting event. He was at the school on May 23 to look at the murals.

Cedarleaf Dahl said she and the students would add the name of Page’s late wife, Diane, to a flower on one of the murals. Diane Page died in October 2018.

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