Something that stands out about Redlands Unified School District (RUSD) schools is the abundance of colorful and intricate murals gracing the sides of classrooms and playground walls.
Almost all schools in the district have at least one painting that turns boring grays and browns of school walls into something more eye-pleasing.
The fun thing about murals is that there are so many options for scenes or people for artists to paint. Artists can tailor their paintings to the specific school site, the city or state.
Smiley, Arroyo Verde and Judson & Brown Elementary Schools feature murals depicting children playing, favorite characters from children’s literature books and a view of Redlands.
Clement, Cope and Moore Middle Schools feature a few more intricate murals.
Clement has an elaborate painting on the outside of its library. It features two walls covered in historical images.
Murals are so popular in Redlands that Moore celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new art piece in 2016.
The three-paneled mural shows students interacting with historical images. The first panel depicts two girls looking at prehistoric cave drawings. The second shows two friends looking at art from ancient Egypt. The third mural shows two boys playing on a wooden ship.
The artist Larry Dierdorff, has painted dozens murals in Redlands. His art is featured at schools such as Clement, Cope, Mariposa, Moore and Smiley.
A former high school and elementary school teacher at A.B. Miller High School in Fontana and Mariposa Elementary in Redlands, Dierdorff has been painting school murals since the 1980s.
It all started when he would see blank walls around campuses.
“I thought to myself, that is a blank canvas,” said Dierdorff. “During that time art programs were being taken out of schools. I wanted my murals to be a way that kids could be exposed to art.”
Dierdorff has done six or seven murals just at Mariposa.
“I’ve painted almost the entire campus,” he said.
He noticed that the administration at Mariposa enjoyed his artwork and thought that other administrations around Redlands might share the same sentiments.
“I was commissioned to do a mural on a ball-wall at McKinley Elementary. The wall was exposed to Center Street, I thought that was a good location because maybe someone from another school would see it and contact me,” said Dierdorff.
(A ball-wall is a wall that students bounce balls off of.)
Redlands’ local muralist became a fast hit around the school community.
From Mariposa and McKinley came commissions at Cope, Clement, Judson & Brown, Moore and Smiley.
How much does a common ball-wall mural run a school’s administration? Dierdorff says he charges anywhere from $750 to $1,200 depending on how complex the school wants the artwork.
Who decides what images to paint? Dierdorff says sometimes schools will give him guidelines, other times he has free reign.
“A lot of the time a school’s administration will commission an art piece without consulting the teachers, so I meet with them and ask what they think would be a good fit for their school.”
In 2017, he was tasked to paint a mural celebrating the college-readiness culture of Arroyo Verde Elementary. The mural was painted in the school’s administrative office and depicts students of Arroyo Verde Elementary, Beattie Middle School, Citrus Valley High School and University of Redlands in order to highlight and connect students to path most of them will take.
Whatever the theme, Dierdorff likes to celebrate the past in his paintings. Most of his murals have some sort of historical aspect to them, whether they are paying homage to Redlands or world history.
Clement Middle School
Dierdorff’s biggest school mural lives on the outside of Clement’s library. The two front walls of the building are completely covered in the artist’s handiwork, painted in 1997.
Dierdorff said that particular mural took all summer, which he painted from left to right in the sense of a historical timeline.
The yellow ship at the beginning of the painting is meant to be sailing off the end of the world. Referencing a time when humans believed the Earth was flat.
From there, Dierdorff took the same shape of the Viking ship and painted a picture of a saxophone.
There are a few underlying messages in the mural.
The pig wearing pearls Dierdorff says references the biblical verse in Matthew 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Or, in layman’s terms, value yourself.
As you run your eyes from left to right, there is a small tree with a hole in the sky depicted. Dierdorff says the tree underneath the hole represents unlimited growth.
Two hands embracing, one green and one orange, embody races helping each other.
California is symbolized by the image of two bridges with cracks in them, which Dierdorff says is referencing the Golden State’s abundance of earthquakes. The rainbow shown above also has a crack.
One of the final images you see is a man sitting on a boat, dressed in a blue and white star spangled vest. He is looking through a pair of binoculars, which Dierdorff says are positioned in a deliberate way.
“Across from the mural is the hallway that leads to the library. I painted the man with binoculars in that particular spot so that when kids are walking, they feel he is looking at them.”
Murals can offer more than just a colorful escape for your eyes. Dierdorff says you never know how they can influence or affect people.
“I painted a ball-wall mural at Smiley of a girl walking along the top of a wall, carrying a baseball bat. Hanging from the bat is a pair of ballet shoes,” said Dierdorff. “I wanted the message to be that girls can do anything.”
Dierdorff has his name at all the district schools. People in Redlands love murals and everything that comes with them, he said.
RUSD Superintendent Mauricio Arellano supports school murals too. The district is working on a mural policy protocol to establish even more artwork in Redlands schools.
“Our schools should be the jewel of our community,” said Arellano.
Like Dierdorff, the superintendent feels that artwork has a positive effect on children. “Murals that create motivation and ones that showcase school accomplishments, can be an outlet for kids to say what they are proud of,” said Arellano. “They will come to school excited.”
“The beauty of Redlands is the people who give it art,” says Dierdorff.
“I think my murals affect people in a positive way.