(First published on May 31 2014)
Native artists bring a message to San Carlos in a mural
Thanks to three young Native artists and a grant from a national organization affiliated with world-renowned street artist Shepard Fairey, an eleven and a half foot mural of an Apache woman now stands behind the Peridot Shopping Center off Highway 70.
High above the ground, freshly pasted onto the side of a water tank, she cannot be missed. Her eyes gaze off into the distance; she appears noble and strong. Wearing a speckled camp dress and a t-necklace that hangs level with her elbows, she holds yellow pollen in her hands against a backdrop of crosses. Blue-green paint is sprayed all around her, representing water.
The Apache words “Tu Ba Ch’Naa,” meaning “water is life,” are painted to her right. To her left are the words “Save Oak Flat.
While the issue of Oak Flat is a contentious and political one, there is no arguing with the mural’s predominant message, which is simply water’s value to humanity, says San Carlos photographer Vansler Standing Fox*. He took the original photograph that is now blown-up and pasted on the tank.
“Anybody could connect with it, young people or old,” he says.
This is perhaps the first large wheat paste mural that has gone up in San Carlos, thanks to Nosie and painters Thomas GreyEyes, from the Navajo Nation, and Carrie Curley, from San Carlos.
GreyEyes approached Standing Fox and Curley about creating a mural on the reservation after receiving a grant from Honor the Treaties, an organization funded largely through a t-shirt awareness campaign created by Fairey (considered one of the most prolific street artists in history). The organization funds artistic projects throughout the U.S. that promote Native American advocacy.
For centuries, wheat paste has been used internationally to mount anything from circus posters and nightclub promos to commercial ads and propaganda to the sides of buildings. The wheat-based paste acts as a simple glue to bind the image to the surface.
Wheat paste allowed these three artists to work collaboratively, starting with Standing Fox’s photography.
Standing Fox spent a day photographing San Carlos elder Margie (Curley’s aunt). Representing the archetypal mother and grandmother, as well as mother earth, Margie would become the face of the artists’ message.
“We knew we wanted an elder. We wanted to have someone who knew their culture, who would represent their people,” Curley explains. “A lot of elders don’t want their photo taken, but she was really open to it. She was honored by it.”
To achieve the perfect image, Margie stood in the cold water of the river, camp dress and all, as Standing Fox photographed her.
Then, the trio drew out the concept in Photoshop, and printed Margie’s image on three rolls of printing paper using 40-inch printers. They painted the base of the water tower a deep blue, and painted two large crosses. GreyEyes used a fire extinguisher to spray the upper half of the tank with blue-green paint. They pasted Margie’s image onto the tank in segments using the wheat paste, and then painted the final touches—the remaining crosses and the pollen in Margie’s outstretched hand.
Paying homage to the Apache religion, the artists incorporated the colors black, white, yellow, and blue into the mural. The yellow pollen also carries religious symbolism for Apaches; it is considered sacred.
“What we were trying to capture really came to life,” Curley says. “It’s this crazy, amazing thing… We went to the extreme.”
So far, the mural has been well-received by the community. Even as the three worked in the afternoon heat, people stopped in their cars to get a better look.
“It’s beautiful!” one woman yelled from her rolled down car window.
“That’s the beautiful thing about it, about art,” Curley says. “The mural has a powerful message that needs to be out for the people to see… I want people to stop and look. That’s why I decided to become an artist.”
*Correction: Vansler Nosie has been changed to Vansler Standing Fox.
Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.