As summer break wrapped up, a group of artists put the final brushstrokes on a one-of-a-kind mural celebrating Lawrence High School.
“I think people will be happy with it,” LHS art teacher Todd Poteet said. “There’s just some neat things … little nods. Some of them are so subtle people aren’t going to know them.”
The project reveals snapshots of LHS’ storied past, including images of social justice and the football bonfire, cultural representations of communities that comprise the school and the school’s mascot, Chesty Lion.
Poteet, who also attended LHS, served on a mural committee last school year along with other staff, students and architects. The group reviewed proposals and interviewed artists, ultimately selecting Phil Shafer, whose team includes Holly Hayden, John Raux and Janee Church.
Shafer, aka Sike Style, studied photography and graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute, according to his website. For nearly 20 years, he’s run Sike Style Industries in Kansas City, specializing in mural painting, custom design commissions and arts consulting. Shafer and crew put the final touches on the mural last weekend, according to a Facebook post.
Poteet said the committee chose Shafer because its members thought he best understood the mural’s intent. Shafer also participated in community conversations with faculty, alumni and students to develop a vision.
Shafer said then-interim LHS Principal Cynthia Johnson, Assistant Principal Quentin Rials, McCownGordon Construction and Gould Evans were integral in working to coordinate the mural process and help bring the LHS stories to life.
“The mural begins with LHS school colors and shifts to full color as it progresses left to right. The mural is narrative and incorporates many stories — it’s just not formatted as a chronological timeline,” Shafer said. “The LHS experience is shown throughout each section embodying the past, present and future.”
The mural’s scenes incorporate many of the school’s historical events and pay homage to the fight song, “Stand Up and Cheer,” as well as Haskell Indian Nations University’s memorial archway.
“It has street style. I’ll call it a clean, graffiti style,” Poteet said, noting the mural spans indoors and outdoors. “He’s done a really good job of using symbols, colors and words that will stay true to time … This mural is massive. It’s two stories high and runs the length of the school.”
Inclusivity played a large role in the mural’s planning. Spectators can view diversity among scenes throughout the artwork, including a rainbow umbrella held in the homecoming parade. Poteet marveled at the way Shafer even created a space representing students who might not fit into a particular group such as brains, jocks, fine arts or otherwise.
“There’s this one space where all of the clubs or groups are represented. There’s this window in the wall, and Sike included this (silhouette) on a skateboard sort of rail sliding on a window. They’re all by themselves, it’s not like they’re in a group,” Poteet said. “There’s this really beautiful moment where this loner is alone but demonstrating absolute joy and freedom in being alone.”
Poteet said an interpretive book and webpage were planned to help provide details about the mural’s scenes.
Work on the piece began this summer. It’s part of a $50 million bond construction project at LHS that’s nearing completion after two years of renovations. Besides the challenges of rain, scorching heat and scaffolding, artists worked facing a brick wall in the form of a bright-white blank canvas that reflected light and heat.
“I try to work in the mornings,” Raux said back in July. “It becomes unbearable, like around 2:30. We’re in direct sunlight. It’s a big, giant white wall with reflective light. It’s pretty hot … but that’s just part of the gig.”
Shafer said he was grateful for the opportunity to work on “a project of this scale and importance to the school.”
“My hope is that students find their own connections in the mural imagery and the artwork lives on for many more graduating classes to come,” he said.
As a muralist, Shafer has merged his love of street art and graffiti with recognizable projects across the Kansas City metro and beyond. His portfolio includes work for corporations, community organizations, news outlets and schools. In Kansas City, there are the colorful Google Fiber box wraps, sports murals for Arrowhead ProShop, the Kansas City football team, The Kansas City Royals, and many other mural backdrops.
Shafer and team’s accolades include an Oakley art activation for the 2020 Super Bowl, the 2017 KC Urban Hero Award and ArtsKC Inspiration Grant in conjunction with a mural project in Kingston, Jamaica.
Note: This article has been corrected from a previous version and was updated Wednesday, Aug. 25 to add submitted quotes and media from the artist.