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Dolphins frolic in the stairwell and along the flights of stairs at Sasebo Naval Base's Jack N. Darby Elementary School. The oil murals were painted by school handyman Toshiya Ikeda, posing here with some of his work.
Dolphins frolic in the stairwell and along the flights of stairs at Sasebo Naval Base's Jack N. Darby Elementary School. The oil murals were painted by school handyman Toshiya Ikeda, posing here with some of his work. (Greg Tyler / S&S)
Dolphins frolic in the stairwell and along the flights of stairs at Sasebo Naval Base's Jack N. Darby Elementary School. The oil murals were painted by school handyman Toshiya Ikeda, posing here with some of his work.
Dolphins frolic in the stairwell and along the flights of stairs at Sasebo Naval Base's Jack N. Darby Elementary School. The oil murals were painted by school handyman Toshiya Ikeda, posing here with some of his work. (Greg Tyler / S&S)
Jack N. Darby Elementary School handyman and noted local artist Toshiya Ikeda stands in front of one of his murals.
Jack N. Darby Elementary School handyman and noted local artist Toshiya Ikeda stands in front of one of his murals. (Greg Tyler / S&S)
Students head toward the cafeteria on Thursday, walking past a mural of dinosaurs in a hallway between the cafeteria and classrooms.
Students head toward the cafeteria on Thursday, walking past a mural of dinosaurs in a hallway between the cafeteria and classrooms. (Greg Tyler / S&S)
Satoe Mueller, wife of Jack N. Darby Elementary School Principal John Mueller, shows part of a mural of animals, insects and flowers she painted recently at the school.
Satoe Mueller, wife of Jack N. Darby Elementary School Principal John Mueller, shows part of a mural of animals, insects and flowers she painted recently at the school. (Greg Tyler / S&S)
Dolphins frolic along a stairway.
Dolphins frolic along a stairway. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — By day, it’s a world of hammers, nails, nuts and bolts for the handyman at Jack N. Darby Elementary School. But during volunteer hours he gives the school, it’s all about acrylics and walls.

Beginning last school year, Toshiya Ikeda, 45, started painting murals on school walls, gradually turning almost clinical, antiseptic-looking off-white spaces at the Hario Housing Village school into images bustling with life, brilliant colors and imagination.

He’s not sure which stretch of wall school Principal John Mueller will allow him to transform next, but he’s ready, the professional artist from Sasebo city said via a translator Thursday.

“When I walk the hallways and I see the children looking at the art and talking about it, and the teachers and others too, it makes me feel very satisfied to think, ‘This is something I have done,’” Ikeda said.

In part because of his talents, art began spreading in the hallways.

Gretta Keel, art teacher at Darby, painted both sides of her classroom door with murals featuring a mix of animals and objects that project joy and help enhance creativity in her pupils, she said.

Her door, then another two more murals by Keel and host nation culture teacher Megumi Fukui contributed to more painting.

Satoe Mueller, the principal’s wife, claims she’s no artist but accepted the challenge after some urging and painted two large wall murals with storybook flowers and animals.

“We drew on the walls first using an image shown on an overhead projector, then decided on the colors and I began to paint. I enjoyed doing this, and I think I would enjoy it again. It gives the school a much brighter and happier look,” she said.

More murals are almost certain. Ikeda paints alone, and his talent is available for more, he said, as long as there are spaces he can transform.

“I started painting when just a boy. Later, while still growing up, an artist who lived nearby began teaching me about painting,” Ikeda said. In addition, he studied sculpture for two years at Tokyo University before refocusing on painting.

According to Keel and Mueller, people associated with the school community have commissioned several works by Ikeda. He shows his work in area galleries and at exhibits in Sasebo’s Yonka-cho (a massive indoor-outdoor mall).

“We should be, and we are honored to have an artist of his skill working here and volunteering — as in no money — painting these murals,” Keel said.

With all the praise, Ikeda’s modest. “Even though I think I could make my living solely from painting, I don’t rely on it and I enjoy my work here,” he said. “I want the children to enjoy the murals. I know they won’t all become artists, but I do hope that this will help them develop appreciation for creativity of the art.”

As for the other painters, Keel welcomes anyone willing to help with any upcoming murals.

“Truly, it takes everybody,” she said. “If you can hold a paintbrush, I can teach you.

“This school environment is so important to our children, and especially overseas at military bases where parents may be deployed for long stretches of time. The school environment needs to suggest happiness and be positive,” she said.

“They (pupils) know all this is done for them,” she added. “They know it’s because we love them.”

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