Denise Santos, TBE Students Create Mural

Denise Santos, TBE Students Create Mural

By Noelle H. Lowery



Art and education go hand-in-hand at Tommie Barfield Elementary School. A stroll through the school’s hallways proves it — student artwork is everywhere. The theme also shines through during the school’s annual Authors & Artists night, an evening in May when the entire school turns into a giant art gallery for students to display works of art made from paint, paper and clay or words on paper.

For this year’s Authors & Artists event, the PTO member Lisa Cartwright asked Goodland artist Denise Santos ( to design and paint a mural with TBE staff and students. As a professional artist, Santos has made a name for herself designing and painting original billboards and signs, and she has painted on a multitude of surfaces, including sign boards, windows, turtle bones, driftwood, wall murals, barnwood and the fiberglass Dolphins of Marco Island. Her work can be seen locally in murals at Hoots and the SandBar, and every Christmas, she paints the windows of various businesses in Marco Island and Goodland.

Santos discovered her love of painting as a second grader in California, which gives her a special understanding of the importance of art in education, so she jumped at the opportunity to donate three weeks of her time and energy to working with TBE students.

First, she worked with Principal Dr. Jory Westberry on a design for the mural. According to Santos, the underwater image of a Manatee (TBE’s mascot) reading a book came together easily, as it pays homage to the natural world TBE students encounter everyday along with the school’s emphasis on developing a lifelong love of reading. Santos, who is an avid scuba diver, left her signature on the mural in the form a diver.

Next, the mural took the form of a full-color sketch, and a real artist’s canvas was purchased for the mural. Gerardo Guzman, a beloved member of TBE’s custodial staff, built the frame for the canvas. He and Santos put the canvas with its full-size paper pattern of the mural on the frame.

Finally, Santos set to mixing the paints in preparation for five days of painting with students from 8:30 AM-3:30 PM. She worked in conjunction with TBE art teacher Kathy Anderson, who allowed small groups of students to paint on the canvas in five-minute intervals during their art class each day.

“Every child got to paint,” says Santos. “Every student put a stroke on the mural.”

For PTO President Debbie Hobbs, the process and end product came together better than she had imagined. “It was fantastic to see how excited the children were to be able to put a few brush strokes on the mural!”, she says. “They are all able to walk by it and tell you which piece they contributed to. A real team effort!”

“A huge thank you to Denise Santos for dedicating three weeks of her life to the children at TBE!”, Hobbs adds

Santos loved how “jazzed” the kids were when it was their turn to paint on the mural: “Their faces were awesome. They were so into it, and they were great kids too — really great kids.” In the end, she was happy to have her chance to give back. After all, Santos says, “That is our purpose on Earth.”

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