Local muralist tells a story of young Los Altos at two schools

Just as school ended this year, new color bloomed on two Los Altos campuses – public art projects commissioned by school communities to mark ends and new beginnings.

At Covington School, the Class of 2015 sponsored a mural celebrating reading and the California landscape. At Egan Junior High, the PTA launched a mural to honor Principal Brenda Dyckman’s 23 years of service. Both murals stem from Los Altos resident Morgan Bricca, who has left her mark on schools, civic buildings, shops and local homes around the region. Through her business “Murals by Morgan,” she has created hundreds of site-specific works of art.

Bricca’s son, an Egan student, had already introduced her to the student culture at the junior high. In meeting with Dyckman, she built a growing sense of the “schoolwide reason to have fun,” ranging from dances to dunk tanks and pancake breakfasts.

Bricca set out to create a mural for students that also resonated with the “grownups” calling the shots. She shared five widely different designs with Dyckman, expecting that a Viking ship on a lake might win out. But the principal chose the wildest – a bright splash of color that Dyckman told Bricca “reflected the explosion of emotion in the early teen years.”

“One thing I love about being a mural artist is the variety – every other artist I know has to really narrowly define their style to be recognizable, and if they vary, all of a sudden they’ve lost their market,” Bricca said. “I cannot believe that back-to-back, I’ll do a landscape and then a nursery. I love playing with the different voices that I can create. The whole reason for my art is to fit the people and the space – who I’m painting for and where it goes. Who are you?”

Student input

During the final weeks of school, Bricca could be spotted at Covington and Egan schools in the early morning, swathed in gear protective against the cold and sun. Raised midair on a scissor lift, she was a spectacle for passing Egan students one recent morning. She starts with the first light in the morning, because as the sun climbs toward its noonday peak, the paint begins to dry too quickly.

“It’s very physical and I’m a scrawny little lady, so I keep myself in shape,” Bricca said of preparing to wield the large brushes and big paint rollers of a grand outdoor work. “Large public projects are super satisfying because they make such an impact – they affect the psychological space.”

Bricca’s mark can be seen across local schools from Santa Rita to Montclaire. She tunes each piece to the interests of the community, and student ideas weave through the art as she creates it. At Covington, creatures crept into the scene, a student-suggested cricket and hummingbird to join the raptor already hovering above a tableau of young people reading beneath a Heritage Oak tree. At Egan, student input defined the final product.

“In the first 24 hours, so many kids came by and said, ‘We’re a really international school and proud of it. It’s like the United Nations there, and that’s really important to the kids,” Bricca said. “It became a major part of the mural – and the flags weren’t even in the original designs.”

As Bricca started laying down paint at Egan, she also put out a table where she challenged students to doodle their own experience at Egan, for inclusion in the mural. Their pride in being a community drawn from nations around the world came through in country flags, multiple languages and the idea that friends from different places were Vikings together.

Even the school’s “mystery bucket” tradition made it into the art – if you don’t know what that is, you’re clearly not a Viking, but here’s a hint: It involves getting doused in something slimy. Dyckman was queen of that tradition. Former students who stop by to see the mural will recognize other school traditions, from a visit to Yosemite Valley to music at Disneyland and lollipops.

“The kids know – that’s what’s so awesome for them. This is their thing,” Bricca said. “I was so excited to paint for teenagers. We were collaborating together, and I wanted a 13-year-old boy or girl to look up and think, ‘Wow. That rocks.’”