Eleanor Buchanan, a senior at Yarmouth High School, recently created a portrait of Toni Morrison, which is complemented by adjacent images of artist and activist Ai Weiwei and poet Maya Angelou. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

YARMOUTH — For Yarmouth High School senior Eleanor Buchanan, the late author Toni Morrison was the embodiment of empathy. That’s one reason she created a portrait of Morrison that’s now gracing the wall in a highly trafficked hallway at the school.

Morrison was the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The New York Times said in an obituary published Aug. 6 that her writing often “coalesced around her abiding concern with slavery and its legacy,” which is most evident in the book, “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

Morrison’s portrait joins two others created by Mairen O’Neill, who began the mural project before graduating this past June. O’Neill chose poet Maya Angelou and artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Along with their portraits are inspirational quotes by all three.

To accompany her mural of Morrison, Buchanan chose a quote in which the author encourages people to “Make a difference about something other than yourselves.”

While this portrait of Toni Morrison is similar to others painted in a hallway at Yarmouth High School, artist Eleanor Buchanan said she also wanted the image to reflect her own style of painting. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

This quote has personal meaning to Buchanan, 17, who said it’s important that “we understand how the world works beyond the bubble of Yarmouth. We need a wider world view if we’re going to make it better.”

Assistant Principal Amy Bongard, who helped O’Neill with the project, said the images are designed to “get people talking and to be thought-provoking.”

“We’re just so proud of our students who use their talents to inspire conversation and foster an inclusive, respectful community,” she said.

Buchanan said Morrison made a perfect addition to the other portraits, especially because “we read a lot of her work” in class. The American literature class is now reading Morrison’s bestseller, “Beloved,” which takes a hard look at the impact of slavery.

Buchanan said  Morrison’s values “are the values of our school.”

Buchanan said she looked through a lot of photos of Morrison before deciding on the image she wanted to use. What Buchanan most wanted was to show is Morrison “looking out on the world.”

“I tried not to deviate too much from the other portraits, but it’s definitely still my own style of painting,” she said.

Buchanan is not sure where she wants to attend college. She’s applied to several schools, including Brown and Middlebury, but wherever she ends up Buchanan wants to incorporate art into her studies.

Eric Klein, the principal at Yarmouth High, said having other students add to to the work originally created by O’Neill is “exactly what we hoped for.”

“We would love to make this a lasting tradition,” Klein said.

In addition to provoking conversation, Klein said the mural project is also a deliberate attempt to create an inclusive, diverse environment at the school, while also empowering students to share their own point of view.

“We want to celebrate our differences, and the appearance of our school needs to reflect this approach,” he said.

Buchanan said for her, empathy means “understanding, selflessness, being aware of how our actions affect others and using our actions to help each other.”

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