For this former Olympian, the covering of a mural in a Burin school gym is like a Greek tragedy

Two murals, both depicting extremely muscular, almost entirely naked men, clad in only a loin cloth. The man on the left is throwing a javelin, while the man on the right is throwing a disc.
Rod Beck, an art teacher at Donald C. Jamieson Academy in Burin, painted these murals in 1996. (Rod F. Beck/Twitter)

A former principal — and Olympic weightlifter — is lamenting the demise of a mural that adorned the walls of a Burin school gym for more than 25 years.

Bert Squires, then principal of Donald C. Jamieson Academy, says the school’s gym was painted an institutional grey, which looked “absolutely terrible.”

He commissioned art teacher Rod Beck to paint several murals, one of which depicted two ancient Greek Olympians. 

“The gym looked absolutely fantastic,” Squires told CBC News. “The gym went from a dungeon into an unbelievable place to come into, and the kids absolutely loved it. It was the ‘wow’ effect.”

The other murals included a jungle scene and a jaguar, the school’s mascot. Squires said the mural involved a “terrible” amount of work, and Beck frequently stayed at the school, painting into the night.

“It was a love for art and a love of the school,” he said.

Squires, a weightlifter, came in fifth place at the 1984 Olympics, sparking the idea for an Olympic-themed mural.

A wide shot of a school gym wall, mostly painted white. The top of a mural depicting a shirtless man throwing a javelin, some clouds, and a building can be seen.
The mural, which depicted two ancient Greek Olympic athletes, has been painted over. (Rod F. Beck/Twitter)

Beck painted two giant, muscular Olympians, both clad in just a loincloth, one throwing a javelin and the other clutching a discus.

“I know that the number of people that are deeply upset with this and offended by this is growing by the day,” Squires said.

Both Beck and the school’s current principal declined an interview request. 

Mural removed due to visibility: NLESD

In a statement, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said the walls were painted white because “light-coloured walls were preferred in the gymnasium as it allows for more visibility of balls and equipment during practice and play.”

Squires, who has a grandchild who attends the school, called the reasoning “ludicrous.”

“I’m sure the Grade 2 person playing volleyball or whatever has zero trouble seeing the balls. That statement verges on the ridiculous,” he said.

The district did not hold any public consultation on the change, but said it did advise teaching staff and the school council.

“As the building owners, the district, and in turn schools, can update and refresh paint and artwork as warranted or as the school community evolves and changes.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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