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Lakeview Dad Taps International Street Artists for Nettelhorst Murals

 Three new murals from Jeremiah Ketner, JC Rivera and Chema Skandal will greet students this fall.
Nettelhorst Murals
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LAKEVIEW — When kids come back to The Nettelhorst School next month, they'll be greeted by bright new murals from well-known street artists — thanks to a local dad.

Jeremiah Ketner, a Lakeview painter with two sons in Nettelhorst, said he first set his sights on a play area behind the elementary school when he took his kids to class each day.

"This fence was just falling apart," Ketner said. "All this brick was falling off. I got sick of looking at it."

So Ketner — who had already painted doors and wooden panels at the school in 2012 — asked if he could do a little more.

He enlisted international street artists (and pals) JC Rivera and Chema Skandal, and the trio made three new murals: two in a paved play area behind the school, and one out front at 3252 N. Broadway.

The push for public art is nothing new at Nettelhorst, which made headlines in 2001 when local mom Jacqueline von Edelberg spearheaded a widely publicized campaign to revitalize the then-failing school.

"The murals happened because we knew we had to entice the neighborhood to come in, and the building looked like a penitentiary," Edelberg deadpanned.

The mom tapped local artists to create murals and sculptures, and worked to find cheap art supplies through community donations.

"Normal theories of reform say you have to change the culture of the school first, and then the climate changes," Edelberg said. "We changed the climate first, and then the culture changed dramatically."

Record numbers of local families began to enroll their children at Nettelhorst, and test scores have jumped significantly in the past decade.

When Ketner first looked for schools for his boys, now ages 7 and 8, he said he was taken aback by how many looked "institutional" with drab walls and chipping paint.

Nettelhorst's bright colors and community art projects were a big draw, he said. So the dad tried to continue that tradition this summer by tapping artists known for their colorful and child-friendly aesthetics.

The largest mural comes from Rivera, who painted his well-known "Bear Champ" character, a larger-than-life bear who dons boxing gloves and a petite crown, near Nettelhorst's back entrance.

"Since this is a really active area — the kids are always playing ball and stuff here — I wanted a kids' character there," Ketner said. "It's just this really cute bear with boxing gloves."

Rivera's work "is really vibrant," Ketner said. "He uses a limited palate, but it's very strong."

Directly across from Rivera's "The Bear Champ" is Ketner's own mural, a colorful rainbow he painted in June as a nod to Pride.

Children from The Nettelhorst School march in the parade every year, Ketner said, "plus, everybody likes rainbows."

The painter and illustrator — who's known for his "stylized dreamscapes" and whimsical themes — created two characters on either side of a lengthy wooden fence. Each one holds part of a rainbow that rolls in waves between them.

The final mural can be found out front, where Skandal painted wooden panels with a whimsical dog, chicken, stars and fireworks.

These will greet kids and parents as they walk in the building this fall, Ketner said.

As the artists worked on their murals this summer, Ketner said, community members passing by often stopped to ask questions. And kids playing at the school always wanted to help.

Edelberg said that kind of response is why she started the mural and paint program more than a decade ago.

"Every school should be the hub of its community," she said. "Neighbors have the power to fix the school that's on their corner. We don't need to wait for someone to come up with some program or whatever. That's something we have the power to do right now."

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