Tryon Elementary School map gets major facelift over two years

Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

With the help of volunteers, students will once again be able to play state tag on the large map of the United States painted at the Tryon Elementary School. The map is an icon of the school and has existed for at least a few decades.

The painting project was completed last week with the tape taken down last Friday. Unfortunately, students will have to wait a little longer to play on the map, because of a water line break that occurred over the weekend. A section of the new map had to be taken up, but school officials say new concrete will be laid in a couple of days and the section will be repainted as soon as possible.

Kim Nelson took on the project last year of repainting the map, with Tommy Williamson of Williamson Paint in Landrum donating the paint. Other volunteers for the project include Kristen Harmon, Bill McCown, Jocelyn Davis, Mike McCarthy, Margot Carter and Scotty Gosnell and the elementary school janitor staff. Following is a narrative written by Kim Nelson following the completion of the project:

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In 2007 I volunteered my help to repaint the Tryon Elementary map of the United States on the ground in their parking area to Mrs. Rogers, the art teacher there. She said they would be starting the project after some very broken up concrete was replaced in the parking area. Once replaced in 2008, I asked Mrs. Rogers who was in charge so that I may offer my assistance to them, and she jokingly answered You are. I had done some murals under a project manager back in Michigan years ago, so I was familiar with how to move forward. I got my head in the game, and started with a few volunteers; Kristen Harmon, Jocelyn Davis, and Bill McCown.

I requested that the area be as prepped as possible due to the fact that we were dealing with three different surfaces; new concrete, old concrete, and old concrete with layers and layers of old paint from the previous mural being repainted numerous times over the years.

The janitor, Mr. Scottie, did his best to power wash the old concrete, and acid wash the new concrete to prep it to be painted. Due to the fact that we were dealing with so much visually (the three different surfaces) I thought it would be best to start with a fresh canvas, so we painted the entire area a nice blue for the ocean.

Staring at this big blue area became a bit intimidating at times; measuring 75 x 45 its over 3300 square feet. I knew I needed to take it step by step, and not get overwhelmed. It was time to get the drawing down.

The previous map had been repainted so many times, the states had really lost their definition and had become what I called balloon states. So I really wanted more defining areas to show our kids more realistically what the states are truly like.

I searched and searched online for a usable map that had some definition, but not too much. I could only find very elementary (balloon) drawings, and the opposite; extremely detailed ones. So, I took an image of each into Photoshop, meshed them together in a new single layer, and drew my own map in a new layer on top which was something between the two. I also felt it was important for our children to learn what our borders are, so Canada and Mexico were added.

I then needed to figure out how to get my drawing off my computer, and down on the concrete proportionately. I opted for the grid method. The concrete sections in the map area are in squares already, so it was an obvious decision to make. I measured about six squares (they were all slightly different) and took an average. With that average, I was able to figure out mathematically a reduction (1/64th) to use for the grid I would put over my drawing on the computer. My friend Michael McCarthy printed out a large version of my map/grid with his blueprint printer. Then we got started.

Jocelyn Davis and I had gotten about half of the map drawn with large Sharpie markers when we noticed the unthinkable. The blue paint was lifting. We noticed it was only on the newer concrete. Realizing that new concrete just wasnt rough enough to hold the paint, some of the janitor staff and I scrubbed and scrubbed with wire brushes, and buffing machines with sandpaper attached. I repainted the chipping areas, and got back to my drawing. But it kept chipping. We would spot treat it again and again by trying to rough it up, and repaint it, but it just wouldnt stop. Then it got cold, and we realized we had to throw the towel in until the next year.

In the summer of 2009 Michael McCarthy generously had his construction crew completely re-sand the entire area with a professional sander, thereby giving the new concrete the texture it needed to grab and hold onto the paint. Although we lost all the work we had done the year before, at least I knew we could move forward this time and it would work (fingers crossed).

I repainted the blue in one full days work and said a prayer. I gave it about two weeks to see if it was going to be difficult again or not. Luckily, for the most part it stuck. There were some tiny areas of lift, but at this point I had developed a relationship with the map and we had an agreement, I can live with it if thats all you’re going to do I told it, and it seemed to agree. Forward ho.

Back to the drawing. It took about a month to get the drawing down completely, the East Coast was not easy, but once I moved into the Midwest it was mostly straight lines with a yard stick and it went quickly.

The weather was pretty much the only thing not cooperating this time around; it was a very wet late summer/early fall. The kids at the school were very curious as to how I was accomplishing getting my drawing so accurate. Sometimes when a class would pass on its way to recess, or music, I would give a little lesson on the grid system.

Ironically the elementary schools focus this year is all about measuring, so the kids seemed extra fired up about its execution. I explained that pretty much every step of the project was being driven successfully by math. Everything from, It takes one gallon of paint to cover 12 concrete squares, so how many gallons of paint do I need to cover the whole surface? to further dividing each concrete square into equal quarters to more easily transfer very complicated areas of the map, to measuring the centers of each state for correct letter placement of the names and capitals. It really was a fun experience working during the school hours to help kids understand such a project and sometimes their enthusiasm kept me going on days when mine was waning.

Once the drawing was complete the next step was choosing colors and getting those states painted! Kristen Harmon and Margot Carter helped me quite a bit and it seemed to go very quickly. Bill McCown jumped in again and helped with giving the states a nice crisp outline. He was my straight man while I took all the crazy curves and we ended up meeting somewhere in Texas!

Next was the lettering. I am not a good hand letterer and I really didnt want the project to fall apart at this point in the game. I searched online and found a large stencil in a very attractive font that would work. Thank you, Tryon PTA for purchasing those.

The state names, capitals and abbreviations are on each state. This process was slow going simply due to the fact that I could only take so long each day sitting on the concrete. There was only one set of stencils so I couldnt get anyone to help, but Kristen Harmon offered to help me with the measuring and placement of where to stencil the names which really moved me along. Thank you, Kristen!

Once done with all the painting, Tommy Williamson and I talked about using a sealant to help preserve and protect the mural once the parking area gets opened up again and the food trucks start making their deliveries. He suggested a product and Bill McCown and I applied it last Friday. It is done (prior to the latest water line break) and I couldnt be prouder.

Tryon Elementary staff was patient and helpful in keeping the area cleared for me to work on it all these months. Mrs. Wheaton in the library was a big help, too! She loaned me numerous atlases when I reached questionable areas, like our own Outer Banks, to help me draw them correctly. Williamsons Paint, Kristen Harmon, Bill McCown, Jocelyn Davis, Michael McCarthy, Margot Carter and the janitor staff were all helpful in ensuring the completion of this project. I hope the kids at Tryon Elementary will enjoy the map for years to come and start playing State Tag again.