Artists Giving Back: School mural project on Navajo Reservation
by Michael Accorsi
Summer of 2005 an ambitious group of students and I ventured down to Tuba City, Arizona to volunteer and complete some service work projects in the summer education program on the Navajo Reservation. We split into two groups one at Tuba City Primary, the other in Eagles Nest elementary school.
An amazing Navajo artist completed a beautiful mural in the center of the school so the administration of the school asked me to do a series of paintings to promote reading between the second and third grades which led to the library. Almost like a small book within itself.
And I only had three days to complete the job. The problem is the wall itself had to be repainted so I didn’t have fresh blocks of color against a weary tan wall. Also, I really only had 3 colors, found a little yellow. The good news - its hot in Tuba City and paint would dry in half the time. I decided to make a dozen or so panels using a familiar cartoon character - Snoopy and the story of the Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.
The book the precious present by Spencer Johnson is a book that my father gave to me as a sentimental gift. It is a story I have utilized in the classroom and on trips and retreats with students. Its a wonderful fireside story to read to kids of any age.
Something particularly significant with The Precious Present and Navajo culture is Navajo people are keenly aware of the living in the present - and maintaining a deep connection to time and tradition. The traditional Navajo home the hogan has a door that faces east to pray and give homage to the rising Sun each day. This serves as a fresh rejuvenating start to a new day and permits the troubles of yesterday to dissipate.
I altered how I portrayed the story to the Navajo children to incorporate some of these themes that are familiar and sacred within their culture.
People always want to know ways that they can help - either by sending donated items or money. I always suggest to donate to Fr. Blaine Green at the Lady of Fatima Catholic church in Chinle, Arizona by Canyon de Chelly. He facilitates two organizations that help Navajo people: a clothing donation center and the Talbot House which provides support and help to those struggling with alcoholism on the reservation. If you are interested in helping the church here is a link with their contact information.