Following in the footsteps of their organization's founder, students in the Poirrier Art Academy continue a legacy of using their artistic talents to give back to their community.

Six Poirrier Art Academy students partnered with the Texas Zoo to refurbish four of the zoo's murals.

"They are another educational aspect," said Andrea Blomberg, the zoo's executive director. "It expands what people do at the zoo. It's not just about seeing the animals."

The murals, which now hang on the outside of the Animal Kingdom Building, went on display in mid-February, but the artists joined together to view their displayed work for the first time Wednesday.

Original talks to do the collaboration began in Feb. 2010 between Blomberg and the academy's beloved founder, Ellie Poirrier, who died in May before the project could come to fruition.

A prominent figure in the local art community, Poirrier gave private art lessons and taught at the Victoria Art League for more than 20 years.

She also operated a free art camp in the summer for children who couldn't afford art lessons

"Ellie is up there clapping," said Marcel Poirrier, Ellie's husband, as he discussed the students' murals.

The six participating students, who ranged from eighth to 12 grades, worked since May to repaint the murals, which were originally painted more than 20 years ago.

Sherwin Williams donated supplies to help repaint each of the four murals, which depict animals native to Texas and/or North America as a whole.

"They actually teach people about the different landscapes, environments and habitats in Texas. They are more than just pretty pictures," said Blomberg. "We're teaching conservation through education."

Painting the murals proved to be not only a community service, but also a learning experience for participants.

"This was an amazing experience not only for me, but for the kids as well," said Claire Santellana, the new director of the art academy. "Anytime you do a large painting, you gain experience and skills.

Specifically, Santellana, 22, said the students, who were of the intermediate to advanced artistic levels, learned about painting proportionally, how to mix paint colors and how to create the style details of realism and impression.

The students dedicated the paintings to the academy's namesake.

"It was just all of us hanging out and doing something for the community," said participant Bethany Garza, 14. "I can come back in several years and see it and say, 'hey, we did that.'"

The murals are just the latest in a long line of renovations underway at the Texas Zoo.

An exotic bird gazebo will be built near the murals.

"I'm enthusiastic and pleased that members of our community came together to make something beautiful for the zoo. It just keeps happening again and again," said Blomberg. "It's going to be very pretty when it's all done."

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