Memory Box

For graduating seniors, whether the MB journey encompasses 4 years or 14, it’s hard to sum it all up or put all those experiences, feelings, and lessons into one neat box – but at MB, seniors are asked to. In a 6×6 inch clay tile box, to be exact.

With some bumps in the annual tradition due to Covid, the Class of 2022 is continuing the annual “tile” tradition this spring, joining a legacy that extends back to the 1990s. The tiles tell a story, over time and in a class.

Alumna / middle school art faculty Dominique Avila made her own tile in the spring of 2011 and gets to see her older brother’s tile across the hallway from her classroom on a daily basis, installed with his classmates from 2006. She enjoys coming across her own tile, too, and those of her friends, if she’s in lower Dwares. “From an alumni perspective, it’s pretty cool for me to see them and think back to our inside jokes and what was important to us then,” she says.

New US ceramics teacher Lawrence Timmins is happily continuing the tradition, taking it over from Anni Barnard who retired last year.

Lawrence started the tile process by asking students, “How can your tile represent your time at Moses Brown or your senior year at MB?”

The tiles are a testimonial to each student’s unique MB experience; they adorn multiple corners of campus, backdrop to the daily life of our school. Many convey an individual story that invites further connection on close inspection. “Each tile is a link to a living person,” Lawrence says, “and stretches beyond the moment they are made.”

Senior Isabel M. secured first place in tile completion, the first senior to complete a tile this year. Ibi came in with a ready idea and completed hers quickly. She says the project let her look back and see common themes in her high school experience. By winter, about half of the class had followed suit. Seniors made their way to Three Oaks Studio to work on their tiles, finding a peaceful pause in the challenges of senior year, stopping to consider what it means to be a senior at this moment and place in time. As the blocks on the calendar pages flipped by this spring, the remaining months of school were devoted to finalizing and firing. The Class of 2022 will reveal their tiles at Commencement on June 9.

The community will see new tiles depicting a variety of topics, themes and images, from athletic numbers to memorable out-of-school experiences. Callan H. paid tribute to her iconic minivan “Janet” which delivered more than 1,000 valentines statewide in February. Making a tile lets students process their high school experience, without any pressure. It’s just for them, for each other. Lillie R. reflected: “It’s fun talking though ideas with friends, seeing what other people are doing.” After a year of school apart, the tile project let students come together, as a class and in small groups, to reflect on their senior year together. Lillie ended up paying homage to the favorite drink that helped her get through high school – iced coffee, with a design inspired by the names/initials of her friends. Miles K. says that his tile was a meditation on what he has upheld and cultivated at Moses Brown in terms of his person: “While I leave my mark on the school, it has left its mark on me, and my tile attests to both.”

Lawrence says it’s interesting to see how the tiles reflect change over time and become a permanent part of community spaces. World events like 9/11 and Covid are reflected in these solid squares, while the tiles provide a historical backdrop for life and conversations at MB today. They are solid, unchanging; some reflect a student’s interior world, others the world at large. Here forever, they let students add to this space in a permanent way before they walk out its doors for good.

Some faculty and staff who are leaving at the end of this year will also leave tiles behind. Matt Glendinning is one, glad to be a part of this long-standing tradition. His tile pays homage to his love of pumpkins and the LS PumpkinFest tradition that he started here. “Executing the design, and talking with seniors who were doing the same over the past few weeks, was fun!” Matt says.

He was joined by retiring art teacher Kristin Street who made a tile at the encouragement of her students. “I was talking with a number of my seniors and advisees and they all pushed to have me make one and be part of their ‘graduating’ class,” she says. Kristin’s tile is pattern on pattern interlocking into an overall image – “It reminds me of the layers of kids that have moved through my classroom and how they link together to make a connected whole. I feel honored to be included with this class.”

The rules are few (use 5 colors, fill the whole square, include your name and grad year, be thoughtful about content), but the possibilities are limitless.

Class of 2022, we can’t wait to see your MB story in tile form this June!