Showell Elementary School mural shares story of Selbyville’s storied history

SELBYVILLE – Add it up and it’s longer than a football field.

It took two about months to paint.

And today and forever, Selbyville’s storied history is the rest of the story.

The area’s rich history captured in mural art is on public display on hallway walls in the west wing of Phillip C. Showell Elementary School – a monumental project undertaken by the entire student body under the guidance of local artist John Donato and school art teacher Laurie Hall.

The mural was christened March 7 during a school assembly. That evening, Showell students led guided public tours of the mural masterpiece – punctuated with history lessons.

“This is how I always wanted the murals to end up, really being tied to education – tied with a purpose beyond just art, like really being able to tell a story and teach a story,” said Mr. Donato.

Seeds for the project were planted by Ms. Hall through grant funding.

“Planning started a year ago with Laurie Hall. It was sort of her brainchild to be able to do a Selbyville mural,” said Mr. Donato.

“It started small(er) because I had first planned to work with just our second-grade students – they do a walking tour of Selbyville every fall for their Social Studies unit on goods and services – and I wanted to portray the Main/Church Street area down the one side of the hallway,” said Ms. Hall. “I met with John to see if he was interested in working together again and through talking with him and bouncing ideas off of one another, we decided to increase the size, the students involved and the overall theme of the mural.”

The mural shares numerous chapters in area history, including the birth of Selbyville as an established settlement, how the town got its name, the hatching of the poultry industry from which other businesses, among them Mumford Metal entered the picture, Selbyville’s former reign as the Strawberry Capital of the World and the great fire of 1916 that destroyed the business district.

Historical research by students factored into the equation.

“Once we decided that we wanted to go bigger, I knew that I needed to enlist the help of several grade level teachers because, as the art teacher, I do not know all of the Social Studies standards and content that is taught,” said Ms. Hall. “I created a team with teachers from each grade level, as well as the principal, assistant principal and school counselor to help with this process.  Throughout the planning, we also enlisted the help of Selbyville Public Library director, Kelly Kline; local historian Kim Grimes and several other community members to help fill in the blanks that could not be found through text.  At one of our meetings, we decided that it would be a great idea to have student ambassadors from our third- through fifth-grade classes to help gather the information and be able to disseminate it back to their classrooms.”

While not his longest school mural project ever, Mr. Donato said the Showell undertaking “is probably one of the most content rich where its actually tying into school curriculum from the front side, meaning it’s designed to actually be used as an educational tool in the classroom. And the school is being proactive with that. So, there will actually be training with the teachers on how to use this to educate.”

“This is one where the kids I’d say drew most of the content, meaning they went out and did the research,” said Mr. Donato. “They were a direct part of understanding what was going to be in it, and going out into the community and finding those answers. They are the experts now. They own this thing. They really do.”

Along the way, research uncovered some interesting little-known chapters, such as the Swamp Monster legend.

“Most of this, no one knew about, only immediate families,” said Mr. Donato. “You are seeing for the first time the entire town being educated on history. The Swamp Monster, this is the first time that people have ever heard of it. It’s just amazing that the kids are bringing that; kids that were born seven years ago are bringing that to folks that have been here for decades.”

Each classroom had the opportunity to paint at least three times on this mural project.  Most of the painting was done in the hallway on the actual mural and then there were several painting sessions that involved Thank You plaques for donors and new large mural boards to be hung in the cafeteria.

To fund the project, Ms. Hall began by writing an Artist in Residency grant through the Delaware Division of the Arts, which funded about half of the mural.  Then, she applied for a grant from the Quiet Resorts Community Foundation and through the PTO and Zonko Builders the last part of the mural project was funded.  “I also decided that I wanted the students and staff to have special t-shirts to help commemorate this event and began a letter writing campaign to hand out to local businesses for them to sponsor the shirts,” said Ms. Hall.

Among those on hand for guided tours were eight descendants of Phillip C. Showell, a farmer whose donation of land served as the site of a two-room colored school initially known as School 210C. Today, it’s the elementary school and bears his name.

The mural pays tribute to Mr. Showell as the “Custodian of the Community.”

“I am so very heartfelt,” said Stephanie Showell Haygood, Mr. Showell’s grand-daughter-in-law. “I am so very proud to be a part of Pop-Pop’s life; the legacy that he has left here. How this school came to be because of him, his generosity … the 210 school … that is what they had here. And Pop-Pop, because of him, we’re living in his legacy now.”

Ms. Showell Haygood was joined by Showell family members Wanda Armstrong, Kimberly Jackson, Danielle Jackson, Gianna Baines, Lisa Showell Briddell, Marshal “Skip” Evans and Michelle McIntosh.

“There are just no words for me,” said Ms. Showell Haygood. “I love it. I am very proud to be here.”

“The finished product is more than I could have hoped for! I am so excited to be able to share this with everyone that enters our building. I hope that as the word spreads, more of our community members – especially the ones that have grown up here – will come in to visit and tour the mural and share with us more information about the town that they know/knew,” said Ms. Hall. “Now that the actual painting and unveiling process is over, I am working on creating a packet for our teachers of how to use the mural as a teaching tool.  Our 4H club really wanted to get involved as well and even though their part wasn’t completed by the unveiling, they are now working on the public speaking component of their 4H standards and are creating videos about key pieces of the town history.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.