New Art in The Bernstein Tea Room, Care of Erik Zou ‘19

On June 8, 2019, Erik Zou walked across the stage of Rousmaniere Hall to receive his diploma, and we bid him farewell as he looked ahead to a year at Eton College followed by four at Harvard. But he had barely made it home to Lexington for the summer when Headmaster Brennan beckoned him back to campus for a special project.  

Mr. Brennan wanted to commission Erik—a talented visual artist already creating watercolors for celebration of the school’s 375th year—for twelve painted murals, one on each newly-exposed panel on the wall of the Bernstein Tea Room. Each panel, Mr. Brennan thought, could represent a month of the year, ultimately depicting the Roxbury Latin campus over all four seasons. The idea of providing a sense of place and time during this important year in the school’s history, while also adding some vibrancy to the newly painted Tea Room, appealed to Mr. Brennan. 

Erik agreed, and he made quick work of the project at hand. “I thought this would take Erik several months,” said Mr. Brennan. “I thought maybe he would get a few done this summer and come back on vacation and get another couple done, and it would go on all year.” But when Erik got to work, he flew through the murals, completing all 12 works in 70 hours. “He was amazingly productive, sometimes completing one in a day,” said Mr. Brennan. By the time school began, all twelve were done and ready to be admired by new and returning boys, faculty, and staff.

These murals depict many corners of campus—from the Perry building, to the arts wing, to the athletic fields. Memorable moments from distinct, annual occasions appear—most notably fall’s Opening Day, all-school handshake and spring’s Closing Exercises. Viewers will even recognize some specific RL people: Mr. Brennan conducting the Messiah Sing in front of Rousmaniere’s organ, and Jack Hennessy ‘54—the generous donor behind Erik’s own Eton College scholarship—appearing in the hockey rink named in his honor. Ultimately, the countless students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents who move through the Tea Room this year will find reason to pause and admire Erik’s work. “He created beautiful paintings,” said Mr. Brennan. “I think it’s just the right touch in that room, and in this year.”

Because Erik’s work was quick, it couldn’t have happened without the help of many. RL’s Buildings and Grounds team erected the scaffolding on which Erik painted, and the Technology team projected photos onto the wall for the artist to get a sense of size and scope before tackling each one. RL’s Communication team provided Erik with countless galleries of images from which he could choose, and Erik’s art teacher, Mr. Buckley, offered instrumental advice along the way. And none of this would have happened if Erik’s mother, Jenny Yao, hadn’t driven him to and from campus each day—well after she thought her RL commuting days were behind her.

View all twelve of Erik’s Tea Room murals here, in photos taken by Dongxu Shan.

Many who joined us on campus in October for the 375th Homecoming Celebration had the chance to take in some of Erik’s newest work, and we hope that many more will have the opportunity to view these additions to the Bernstein Tea Room, as we host a number of events on campus in celebration of Roxbury Latin’s 375th year.