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They were given the assignment in October 2008 and asked to finish it by November that same year.

That deadline came and went without a finished product, and it took a small group of Career Center students until last spring to complete the 8-foot-by-60-foot mural.

But if you ask the students who created the work, which was installed at the Imaginarium play area at Rimrock Mall last month, it was worth the wait.

“I think it turned out perfect,” said Jennifer Villacorta, one of the mural’s head designers. “I never though it would turn out so well.”

The mural was dedicated on Nov. 24 and hung in the play area, near J.C. Penney, about a week before that. A huge, 15-panel piece that stretches across an entire wall, it shows a colorful, happy look at the state of Montana.

From left to right, it depicts the state beginning at Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park and proceeds east all the way to the wide-open ranchlands of Eastern Montana.

In between, it includes many of the state’s best-known qualities and features, including the Capitol in Helena, a dinosaur dig in Bozeman and the Yellowstone River near Billings. Interspersed throughout are paintings of cartoony, bright- and wide-eyed kids.

“I’m just glad it worked out so well,” said Emma Brunckhorst, who painted all of the characters and is the mural’s other lead designer.

“I’m hoping it’s as fun for kids to look at as it was for us to paint.”

But it took a lot of work to get there.

Both women — who graduated from high school last spring — were students at the Career Center in the fall of 2008 when Rimrock Mall contacted a few of their teachers about having students create the mural.

They settled on the changing landscape idea and got to work, first designing an outline on a computer and then using a projector to sketch the images onto the panels. Villacorta worked on the backgrounds while Brunckhorst created the people.

With the help of about two dozen other students, they gave up parts of just about every weekend for nearly eight months to create the work using a paint-by-numbers method.

“I didn’t really comprehend just how big it was really going to be,” Villacorta said. “It was just exhausting. You don’t realize how much painting takes until you (do) an 8-by-60 mural.”

Rimrock Mall general manager Kendall Merrick said the mural brings a nice touch to the kids’ play area and gave the students valuable real-life experience in design and organization.

“It just adds another dimension,” she said of the mural’s effect on the Imaginarium.

“It brings so much to the area. It was even better than I envisioned.”

Contact Zach Benoit at zbenoit@billingsgazette.com or 657-1357.

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