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Artists usually don't work in teams, but they did at Billings West High when they completed a large, two-panel mural at "Jock Rock," a traditional meeting place for students.

The mural, which took two years to complete, was painted by students who graduated in 2001 and 2002.

It replaced a previous mural done decades ago, said Sue Dolan, who has taught art at West for 16 years.

Students were asked to come up with an ambitious design that encompassed a global view of humanity, showed cultural icons and expressed teens' view of the world.

The result was a work with wide-ranging subjects from the opening words of the U.S. Constitution - "We the People" - to portraits of Albert Einstein, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Mount Rushmore is there, too, along with soldiers raising the American flag on Iwo Jima, New York's World Trade Center towers bathed in white light, West High's golden bear and a bald eagle.

The panels show how seriously today's students consider the world around them.

"Kids have so many more things to think about than 30 years ago," Dolan said. "This isn't a very innocent time."

Adults have been impressed at the depth with which teens look at serious topics, she said.

A panda on one panel representing disappearing species shows how concerned students are about the environment, she said.

Dolan thinks this mural will stand the test of time and will be remembered more than just "a high-school mural" because it has such iconic images as King Tut and Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian man.

The Jock Rock mural is not the only student art on permanent display at West High.

One of the more unusual ones was painted by students of art teacher Dean Klarich.

Walk down the long science hall on the second floor of West and a large brooding portrait of Albert Einstein stares at you head-on.

Keep walking and slowly Einstein dissolves into a series of black dots on a white background.

Outside of Klarich's room are eight rectangle panels. One with a carousel horse has a 1989 date. The others were done before Klarich came to West 23 years ago.

The paintings include a portrait of Salvador Dali at an easel, a student working on ceramics and jewelry-making tools.

On the wall above one stair landing is a large painting done by the Art Club in 1980-81 of young musicians with jazz instruments set against a light blue background.

In another stairwell, two narrow paintings show a Pepsi bottle and a Coke can, both turned upside down, spilling long waterfalls of pop. In the hall near the library is Jacinda Nettik's 1997 acrylic painting by of a large bear feeding on fish in the wilds.

The cafeteria has a large mural covering one wall done in 2002. Along with students representing high-school activities from basketball to graduation, the mural features familiar faculty faces - including retired choir director John Haughey and Betty and Charlie Nesbit, legendary majorette coaches, also now retired.

Near the front office, American Indian students painted white dancing shirts surrounded by Plains Indian pictographs.

Student paintings on permanent display show how rich the art program is at West, Klarich said.

Students can take a different art class each year at West, where classes in ceramics, jewelry, drawing, design and painting are taught.

With some schools around the country are cutting back on art programs, Klarich hopes that doesn't happen in Billings.

Art not only gives students a chance to express themselves, it allows artistic students, who might not be good in other subjects, a way to succeed in school.

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