By Julie Huss
---- — LONDONDERRY— It was a team effort in tile.
For about two years, East Derry artist Michael Gibbons has worked side by side with Patrick Shannon, a young man with autism who makes great strides in clay under Gibbons’ watchful eye.
The pair recently unveiled a colorful tile mural they created over the past several months, now on the wall at the Moose Hill School in Londonderry.
The mural shows moose tracks and other moose symbols, a tribute to the school’s name and mascot.
Shannon was once a student in Londonderry’s Early Education Program, now housed at Moose Hill. At 23, he still comes to the school as a volunteer to read to younger students.
When it’s time to do art, Shannon arrives at Gibbons’ studio at Nutfield Pottery to work in clay and create unique items.
“He’s made all kinds of tiles and bowls,” Gibbons said.
The local potter is no stranger to helping create tile murals for schools in the area. He did a tile mural project at North Elementary School in Londonderry and several Derry schools also have murals hanging in their hallways and lobbies, the results of creative collaborations between the artist and students.
In Shannon’s case, Gibbons said the two have worked together for two years. Shannon comes to see Gibbons every Friday. They decided to work on the Moose Hill mural and came up with several design options.
The young man already had some ceramic talents, Gibbons said, as he took courses in art while a student in Londonderry.
At the mural unveiling on June 21, Gibbons told guests and school staff he felt very much at home in Londonderry and enjoyed working on the mural with Shannon.
He also told his student that all his family support showed in a big way.
“Everybody should be so lucky,” he said.
Gibbons said he learned a lot himself through the partnership with Shannon.
“He never came to my studio and never accomplished anything,” Gibbons said. “He also taught me as I taught him. I learned when to be quiet and when to talk. Talking is not always necessary.”
Gibbons thanked Shannon for allowing him to be part of his world and making him feel welcome. They both learned a lot in the process.
“I had to pay close attention to how you were feeling,” Gibbons told his student. “You let me into your world and got more accomplished that way.”
Shannon’s mother, Stacey, said having her son team up with Gibbons was the perfect fit. The art lessons will continue.
“It’s a big positive for him,” she said. “He looks forward to going.”