This is one fix that Harry Potter might not get out of.
The world’s most famous fictional wizard was dismantled from Ashland High School’s senior mural Friday by Principal Jeff Schlecht, who deemed the material inappropriate.
Echoing Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel, the mural features Harry as Adam and Professor Dumbledore as God, surrounded by other characters from the best-selling book series as cherubs. On Harry’s lap is a Golden Snitch, which in the Harry Potter books is a walnut-sized magic ball with wings chased by Seekers in the game of Quidditch.
Mounted over the quad Friday, the mural stayed intact for just a few hours before Harry’s panel was removed. The four artists, Colette Paré-Miller, Alex Levine, Sage Trail and Djamika Smith, who grew up together in a Waldorf school, weren’t told about the removal until this week. The other three panels remain on display.
Since the panel’s removal, many students have been wearing paper Snitches pinned below waist level with the words, “Censored for your protection.”
Schlecht said that while he appreciates the students’ 50 hours of creative labor and the fine art it produced, he must abide by school district policy that considers inappropriate any excessive bareness, whether in art, a video or at a football game.
Schlecht told the artists Wednesday to appropriately cover Potter’s genitalia with something bigger.
“We did censor his genital area,” Trail said. “It’s just the legs and torso of a man, definitely appropriate for a high school — and we’re not going to change it.”
The artists’ sketch had been chosen by a student committee for the quad mural, which is painted anew with each graduating class. Smith said the four took the proper steps in presenting the sketch to the AHS leadership class and to Schlecht, who at the time asked for a bigger Golden Snitch. The artists made it about the size of a baseball, but when the mural, made of four 4-by-8-foot wood panels, was hung up in full view, it just didn’t do the job, Schlecht said.
The four seniors plan to appeal the decision to Ashland schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro, and if they aren’t allowed to hang the missing panel, they will go to the School Board, Smith said.
“It’s really frustrating after we went through all the steps and we want it put back up,” said Smith. “We believed no one would complain. We believe students and the community would support it.”
Trail’s mother, pediatrician Debra Koutnik, said the principal doesn’t have the authority to censor art according to his own values.
“Art needs to reflect the community at large and Ashland is a very free-thinking and inclusive community,” she said.
Schlecht responded to Koutnik’s comment by saying, “That’s a very good question. Their perception of Ashland is right on, but this is a public high school and I have to represent all perspectives in grades nine through 12. My interpretation is that it was inappropriate.”
The Harry Potter saga provides a “special bond” for the four girls, who grew up with the characters, said Gerry Paré, AHS orchestra teacher and mother of Colette, who waged an art censorship battle with the school last month. Her abstract paintings of male and female genitalia were allowed to be exhibited during a First Friday art show at Briscoe School but in a separate, monitored room so children wouldn’t see them.
“There’s nothing showing, no genitals,” Gerry Paré said of the mural. “Michelangelo did a fabulous job depicting Adam and God in the first moments of life, and I think it’s a neat idea that they saw that and adjusted it to their teen culture.”
On the quad after school Thursday, senior Elijah Cintrom, a friend of the four, said removal of the panel was “upsetting and I wanted to wear a Snitch to protest. Nudity is just a different costume but perverts think otherwise.”
Senior Walker McAnnich-Riunzi said he admired the painting. “We’re of the Harry Potter generation, the same age as him. It brings up the issue of free speech. Jeff (Schlecht) is usually good on that. I don’t know what caused him to change his mind.”
Schlecht said he encourages using the dispute as a problem-solving exercise and welcomes the artists’ appeal up the school district ladder.
“I honestly don’t think they were trying to push the envelope,” said Schlecht. “They were trying to create a great work of art and they did.”