Montessori Murals Capture California in Art

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG)   |  Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner
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A 36-foot trout dominates Kocina’s zoology mural. Subject matter reflects cultural studies at the Carmichael school.
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Artist Kocina gave up summer vacations to complete his one-man opus.

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - A five-summer mission at the California Montessori Project (Carmichael) has festooned the old La Sierra High School campus with five murals. The last was recently unveiled to reveal a dazzling pageant of California history.

Explains artist/teacher Noah Kocina: “The work reflects two significant events in our history – the establishment of Spanish missions and the rush to find gold.” Over summer vacations, Fair Oaks resident Kocina completed this and previous tableaux that total 2,500 square feet in area. Reflecting utilitarian 1960s school design, his canvases were originally concrete classroom abutments.

The Montessori Project began leasing teaching space from Carmichael Recreation and Park District in 2019. Kocina and director of school operations Gary Bowman beheld blank concrete slabs and envisioned opportunities for beautification – and for enhancing the school’s community presence.  Bowman suggested a series of murals and commissioned Kocina to get painting during summer teaching breaks. “I’d start at 6 am,” says the artist. “Mornings were completely quiet, and painting felt like meditation. I’d work six or seven hours, until it got so hot my paint dried before I could apply it.”

Kochina’s designs represent Montessori philosophy and five cultural elements of school studies: botany, zoology, geometry, geography and history. Before he began painting, one lone wall already bore a painted Stars and Stripes.  CRPD administrators okayed his murals as long as the nation’s symbol remained. “We were fine with that,” says Kocina. “But I wanted the flag grander and larger. I incorporated it in my geometry mural – there’s a lot of geometry in the design of a flag.” His botany mural centers around a huge California poppy. A 36-foot trout dominates his zoology design. The muralist’s big view of geography shows the solar system in relationship to Planet Earth. He plans a separate future work illustrating native American life before missionaries and miners arrived.

Though Kocina was paid for his five-summer project, the tableaux are still works of passion. “At first, I tried to keep my art simple,” he recalls. “I began with only one person in my geometry design. By the final mural, I was working on an epic. I used as many people, animals and symbols as I could. Every man, woman or child in all five works is a likeness of someone affiliated to this school.”

“Planning the last mural, was like casting a play,” he says. “I had to find 23 people with face and body types to match monks, miners, a Mexican senorita and the goddess Minerva from our State seal.” One of Kocina’s daughters became his goddess and even constructed body armor for reference photos. Near Minerva’s spear-point, the artist himself peeps Kilroy-like over the California state line. “Hardly anybody’s noticed me yet,” he says. “But I’m there as a final signature. I like to conceal objects in my painting to give the kids an extra layer of interest when they’re poring over it. My face is an extra Easter egg.”

To view the Montessori murals, park at 5330 Gibbons Drive, Carmichael and enter playing fields via fence gates. Learn more about Noah Kocina’s art on Instagram at n_kocina.