A couple months ago, the students in Harmony Thompson’s art class were kicking around ideas for a mural for one of Northeast High School’s corridors.
The images had to be easily associated with the school. A Viking, Northeast’s mascot, was a must. The teens also decided they wanted renderings of a graduate, musicians, a football trophy, athletes — and a chicken.
There had to be a chicken, but more about the poultry later.
Thompson said more than 70 students worked on the mural, which was dedicated last week in a corridor near the school’s large gym.
Several students explained that the collaborative effort was a lot of work. The painting and tile-setting took more than a month to complete. But it was fun, too, said senior Carmen Lu, 18, who painted football players.
Sometimes it was a little messy.
Junior Dior Green-Lorick, 17, helped to apply the grout for the mural’s tile elements. But not all of the grout made it to the wall. As Green-Lorick explains, “It was flying.”
Brandon Luroe, another 17-year-old junior, painted outlines, and he recalled how some students seemed surprised that they were getting paint on themselves as they worked. Becky Zheng, a 16-year-old junior, got a chuckle as students wiped their faces but weren’t aware of the paint smears left behind.
Junior Linda Cardona, 18, noted that she — accidentally — painted her shoes.
The students were guided by professional artist Karla Siegel, and the project got some money from the Arts Futures Program, which is funded by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Delphi Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports educational projects.
Thompson, who has been teaching at Northeast for two years, explained that she wanted to create a mural but knew it wasn’t a project she could do alone. The grant money and Siegel’s help made it possible.
Siegel brainstormed with the young artists to come up with ideas drawn from Northeast High’s history and identity. Some of the images they decided to use were from old yearbooks. For example, there is a building depicted on the mural’s left; that’s Northeast’s original building in North Philadelphia.
Other concepts for the mural came from the school’s traditions. The Viking had to be there. And on the right side of the mural is the image of the “Wooden Horse Trophy,” which goes to the victor of the annual Thanksgiving football game between Northeast and rival Central High School. Elsewhere on the mural are depictions of football players, a softball player and a band member, among other illustrations.
As she stood by the mural near the school’s back entrance, Thompson offered enlightening details of the images while explaining how Siegel “took all the students’ ideas and put them into this order.”
So, why a chicken?
Anyone who was at Northeast High School in early 2008 knows why, and you can be sure that the kids who came later learned about the legend of this fowl episode.
In mid-February 2008, when some of the kids in Thompson’s class were freshmen, four people dressed in dark and hooded clothing slipped into the school after hours and released 85 chickens in the corridors.
It was a messy prank, and an expensive one. The school had to be closed for a day so the halls could be cleaned and disinfected. The roaming chickens were rounded up and taken to the Fox Chase Farm.
And even if you don’t think it was at all funny, you would have to admit that the incident would forever be a mysterious part of the school’s lore. After all, stories about Northeast High’s feathery intruders went international. Search under “chicken prank” and “Northeast High School” and you can still see a snippet of the school surveillance video on YouTube.
No one was charged with releasing the birds into the school, said assistant principal Rob Caroselli. Perhaps the case will remain unsolved.
But it’s great stuff for a mural. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org