Modern Stafford Stafford Public School Murals

Stafford Public School Murals

The majority of schools in the Stafford County Public School (SCPS) district are named after important people/aspects of Stafford’s strong history. In 2021, the Stafford Museum and Cultural Center began partnering with SCPS to provide grants to create murals to visually display their heritage.

Below is a photo of the completed mural at Widewater Elementary School with a key explaining each component of the mural. This mural was designed and painted by Fredericksburg artist, Gabriel Pons.

Widewater Elementary School mural key
Widewater Elementary School mural

Brenda Edwards loved the idea of telling lesser-known, but still important, stories about Stafford County history.  In particular, she wanted to let people know there was more to Stafford’s history than being George Washington’s boyhood home.  Discover Stafford’s grants allowed her to highlight those stories at Rodney Thompson Middle School. During the summer of 2021, she spent a week and a half painting a 17-by-7-foot mural that captures local history. She hoped it would compel students and parents to learn more about their surroundings. She talked to local historians and did research to make the mural as accurate as possible. The mural is on display in the school’s main hallway so people can see it as soon as they enter.

The result, titled “Unsung Songs of Stafford,” features a number of scenes, including enslaved African American ship captain Robinson Daggs, the desegregation of schools, the Patawomeck Indian tribe and the building of the Interstate 95 bridge over the Rappahannock River.

“Historically speaking, well-to-do people are represented in history,” said Edwards, who is doing a similar project now at Stafford High School, where she is an art and photo teacher. “Sometimes a lot more of the smaller stories need to be told.”  Educating others, especially the students, about their school or county is the impetus behind the mural project.

In the program’s first year, 11 schools applied for 10 grants, and extra money was provided so all the schools could be accommodated. Overall, 13 county public schools have participated in the program.

Eric Powell, the K-12 history and social sciences coordinator for Stafford County Public Schools, said the mural project began after students at Anthony Burns Elementary wanted to paint a mural at the school to honor its namesake. Burns’ mural is titled “Soaring to Success” and showcases people connected to Stafford, including Samuel Langley, who oversaw the first unmanned flight, educator H.H. Poole, artist Palmer Hayden, doctor and suffragist Kate Waller Barrett and American Red Cross founder Clara Barton.

Anthony Burns Elementary School mural
Anthony Burns Elementary School mural
Anthony Burns Elementary School mural
Anthony Burns Elementary School mural

Typically, students at the high schools paint the murals. At middle and elementary schools, either the art teacher or a contracted professional artist paints the mural.

Leslie Orton, an art teacher at Colonial Forge High School, said about 20 of her students from the National Art Honor Society helped create the mural on the school’s second-floor history wing. There were other murals already at Colonial Forge, but the students wanted to do one themselves. Aided by Colonial Forge history teachers Byron Spicer and Matt Skjoldal, Orton designed the mural. The students started painting it during the winter of 2022 and finished most of it by that spring. The mural has received touch-up work and additional words since.  Orton wanted the mural to emphasize who had been on the property before Colonial Forge was built.

Titled “Who Shaped the Land on Which We Stand,” the mural highlights Augustine Washington’s Iron Forge, including the enslaved people who worked there.  In addition, there is an image of a female Patawomeck Indian tending to a fire, as well as a man cutting wood, a reference to nearby Woodcutters Road. The mural also includes an Eagle, a tribute to Colonial Forge’s mascot.

Colonial Forge mural in process


Mural at Hartwood Elementary (by Gabriel Pons)

Hartwood Elementary School mural – “Hartwood Passages”

Gabriel Pons was commissioned by Hartwood Elementary to paint a mural as part of the partnership between the Stafford Museum and Cultural Center , Stafford County Public Schools and the Stafford Education Foundation. The goal of the mural initiative is to highlight the unique history and culture of Stafford County in creative and innovative ways.

“Hartwood Passages”

Titled Hartwood Passages, the mural artwork is a bird’s eye view encompassing South Stafford County, Falmouth and Fredericksburg. Pons’s intention was to depict the region as an abstracted visual text, highlighting historic architectural landmarks in Hartwood as well as encouraging the viewer to explore and ask questions about other key geographic elements. Roads are interpreted both literally and metaphorically. The intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 17 creates an “X” through the center of the mural and other major throughways including route 1 and the railways, depicted as vertical stripes cutting through the landscape. The Rappahannock River, so critical to the region’s history and development, is rendered as a bold sinuous ribbon stretching from end to end, alluding to its prominence in the region. The artwork rounds out to a smooth curve at the base, referring to the global community that students participate in. The composition aims to ordinate the viewer, encouraging them to inquire about the cardinal directions, the landscape’s topography, and their own location relative to Hartwood Elementary.

Concept Sketch for “Hartwood Passages”

This mural was a real personal challenge for me. We’ve been living in Hartwood now since moving here from New York in 2005 and it has been home for both our sons. It becomes a “tug of war” when there are so many ideas and concepts to incorporate in an artwork. In fact, one theme I felt compelled to embed in the design is this sense of optimism and unbridled curiosity that a child feels at Hartwood Elementary. Despite the school’s location in a relatively rural setting, we are adjacent to one of the major highway systems on the eastern seaboard. It’s important to impress upon students the idea that the paths they are taking now as elementary students will soon take them well beyond the horizon.

While working on site, I became nostalgic for our school days at Hartwood Elementary. Looking back, the faculty acclimated us to being responsible parents as much as they instilled leadership values in our children. In some ways I feel that this project has brought me full circle back to those years when my boys attended Hartwood Elementary and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the school’s future.

See the key below to learn more about Hartwood Virginia’s history.

Mural Key