Thursday, December 29, 2016

Another Mural for the Elderly??


Due to the overwhelming success of our previous mural, the residents of the nursing home Hogar de Ancianos Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz in Antigua Guatemala have requested ANOTHER (two) mural(s) for their dining hall. Designs are in the making, the only thing missing is $230 in donations towards paint, materials, assistant and such, in order to create the first one. Want to help? You can donate trough PayPal (see “Donate” button on this page) or a deposit in Euros on my Dutch bank account (please email me for bank info, Let’s make these terribly cute people happy this year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Christmas Gift for the Elderly

Only a block away from the central park in Antigua Guatemala, an old colonial building is home to 136 elderly (50 women and 86 men) who have nowhere else to go. The high ceilinged bedrooms off the corridors are cramped with beds and few personal belongings. Mealtimes are the highlights of the day. Otherwise, most of the elderly spend the day in the corridors surrounding a garden, dozing off while wandering far off places in their minds, singing to invisible audiences or strolling the corridors on their Crocs. Some look more ancient than Yoda and have long lost interest in life beyond the walls of the home, but many others are active and alert, happy with any diversion offered by visitors or volunteers. Or mural painters.

In the beginning of November I already painted a mural in the physiotherapy room at the nursing home Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz. It was much appreciated and immediately resulted in a request for another mural in the dining hall. Of course I said yes!
After some fundraising I started working on the design. I decided on a double portrait of two elderly people surrounded by objects from their youth. Surfing the internet for suitable images, I stumbled on a post by Mikki Branner, who volunteered at the nursing home in 2012. It’s a beautiful post with striking portraits of some of the residents (and hereby my excuses for using those images without permission, but I couldn’t find a way to contact Mikki Branner). I picked two portraits of, as I learned later, Don Inocencio and Doña Juanita, both now deceased. Don Inocencio, as I was told, loved his liquor and although prohibited in the home, he managed to smuggle some in sometimes and then happily sang for his fellow residents. Doña Juanita passed away only to months ago. She was mute but had no problem expressing herself and was much loved in the home. 

I asked my 16-year old assistant Henry to help me find images of antique objects. He was eager to help and soon sent me a series of images of “old stuff”. His pictures cracked me up: film posters of Rocky, Superman and Ghost Busters. A View Master and a Rubik Kube. Plastic soldiers and a skipping rope! That’s what you get when you ask a 16-year old for pictures of “old stuff”. It also made me feel very old. 
Henry Navarijo
I found some pictures of antiquities myself but when assembling them around the portraits, I wasn’t very happy about it. It was too chaotic, it lacked unity. I tried some Guatemala fabric in the back ground, but that didn’t work either. Then I remembered the colourful church of San Andrés Xecul and… yes!
This 17th Century church (near Quetzaltenango) is a wonderful example of the syncretism between Maya beliefs and Catholicism. The parish was without a priest for years and the locals just did their thing, I guess. The façade is covered with angels, saints, flowers, vines, ferns, palm leaves and many animals, including a few jaguars. The angels look like tired, chubby super heroes and the symmetry is quite off here and there. I just love it!

So off we went to paint. This time there was a lot more interaction with the residents and they loved to have us there. One man whose designated seat is right in front of the mural told me he liked this one much better than the other because he had physiotherapy only once a week and this one he could enjoy every day.
Within days we knew many of the residents and every morning we had to personally greet them. Some liked painting themselves and showed me their work, wanting to hear my “professional opinion”. And of course, a week before Christmas, we were constantly treated to Christmas Carols, (indoor) processions, (outdoor) fireworks, concerts and many, many treats the elderly insisted on sharing with us.

Henry and I both felt that our work was thoroughly appreciated both by the residents and staff. About every able resident stopped to chat with us and congratulate us on the art work. Other people were less aware. One time, working high on the ladder, an old man urgently beckoned me to come down. I thought he might have some suggestion for the mural, but no, he just wanted some water. All in all it was a very special and heartwarming experience. We left after many hugs, handshakes and applause. And guess what? They want ANOTHER MURAL!!! Fine with me, there’s still plenty of wall left…

Many, many thanks to Henry Navarijo who again was a great help and is a very talented young painter. And of course to the sponsors who made this mural a reality: Wendy Russell, Nina Larrea, Linda Green, Jim Bader, Jihae Park and Romi Gonzalez. Thanks so much!!!

And as for another mural?? I can squeeze one in before the end of the year. Want to help? Please donate and I’ll paint!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Garden for the Elderly

Murals for kids, murals with kids, murals with adolescents, murals depicting kids… Dozens of them I’ve done so far, but I never painted one for a specific elderly audience. And I hadn’t really thought about designing one until I got an email from a friend who wanted to sponsor a mural of a tropical garden in honour of her parents, including an Angel’s Trumpet flower like the one they had in their greenhouse. Of course I could, the only thing was that of all the mural requests I had received, none was for a tropical garden.
I decided that a tropical garden would be a nice theme for a nursing home or hospital. A wall was quickly found at the Hogar para Ancianos Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz in Antigua Guatemala. This nursing home occupies almost a whole city block at only a stone’s throw from the central park. It’s run by the Catholic Church while the property is the Municipality’s. It is home to the poorest of the poorest elderly people, some of them previously homeless. And best of all, for me, they were very much interested in a mural!

Only days after getting the green light I started painting with the help of Henry Navarijo, a young Guatemalan kid who is a student at a friend’s carpentry project in the nearby town of Alotenango. Henry is a keen learner, wants to study technical drawing (as well as literature and psychology, yes, the kid is ambitious!), so we thought this would be a great opportunity to put his dream into practice. And a great help he was! He first helped me draw the grid, very meticulously, and then painted the windows all by himself. He also quickly and very capably copied part of the plants in the background. We both had fun and Henry leaned a lot. I think he now wants to study painting too.

I would have loved to involve some of the elderly in the painting process, but they would have had to stand on a ladder and that was asking a little too much. But we did have a constant audience of residents who came into the room for their physiotherapy. The feedback was very positive and we even got serenade by Don Saúl who didn’t want to leave the room while we were painting.

Both residents and staff were very pleased with the result. So much so that they asked for another mural! That one will be much bigger and the location even better: the dining hall. I’m planning on painting a double portrait of elderly people surround by objects they might remember from their youth. I hope to paint this mural before the Christmas holidays; that would be the best gift I could give the residents of this nursing home. But… I’ll need donations! So that’s were YOU can help! Thank you Wendy Russell and Nina Larrea for your donations. With another $250, this mural will be a fact! (Smaller donations are welcome too!)

Many thanks to Lies Joosten who sponsored the tropical garden mural, and Henry Navarijo for the great help.

Henry Navarijo

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Children's Rights Mural Project in the Dominican Republic Postponed

Mural design for one of the schools in Puerto Plata (2.43 x 213m)

Today is International Day of Children’s Rights and up to a few hours ago I was extremely excited for my trip tomorrow to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic to paint a series of murals with this theme at two schools, invited by the Dutch Colour4Kids Foundation.

A new concept that I have developed for this project is a series of colouring pages depicting the design of the mural, in black and white, of course. The selected schools in Puerto Plata both have about 200 students each and it is impossible to involve all children in the painting process, especially the little ones. So I designed colouring pages, six different ones of the big 24 meter long mural at the one school, and a compilation of all rights for the other school. It hopefully won’t just teach children about their rights, but also involve them in the process of creating the mural by colouring the same design that will be painted in a much larger scale on the wall of their school. The colouring pages will also be available on line (and below).

Alas, the project just got postponed! As you might know, for weeks now there have been horrendous rains in the Dominican Republic, causing major flooding and a wave of havoc and destruction. Thousands of people have been evacuated, roads and bridges are destroyed and whole areas are inaccessible, especially in the Puerto Plata area where I was heading.

This morning I talked with Erik, one of the coordinators of Colour4Kids. Erik has been there for a week now, to oversee the construction work at the two schools that is being sponsored by Colour4Kids, which is now at a halt too. He told me the situation is terrible (his overseeing has turned into emergency aid work) and we made the difficult decision to postpone the mural project. It’s not only a matter of logistics (getting there and maybe not being able to paint with the continuing rains) but mostly because painting a series of murals is not a priority now. People are busy saving whatever they can of their already scarce possessions and for now it’s recovery and reconstruction. Hopefully everything will be back on the rails soon and the murals will be on the wall in a few months. In the meantime, I really hope the sun will soon shine again over the Dominican Republic and that losses can me minimized. Wishing people the very best and thinking how awful and ironic it is that today, International Day of Children’s Rights, so may kids once again will lack even the most basic of those. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Mural Impact Study

Ever wondered what impact a mural can have? Well, look at the following. Five excellent reason to donate!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

And Now a Word from our Sponsors...

Here some words from the main sponsors of the Chimachoy Community Mural:
"Thanks for the beautiful and detailed final report! For us it was a joy to follow this colourful project. And the result is great! You can be proud of yourself that you have achieved this despite all the pressure, bizarre weather conditions and other difficulties. Also thanks for the regular updates and beautiful pictures. Good luck with upcoming activities and projects."

"What a beautiful report you have written. (..) you can proudly look back on what you have achieved and hopefully many people will be able to enjoy it for a long time."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Looking for Sponsors!

With the third mural (Starry Night) done at the educational centre Brillo de Sol, a special school for special kids in Guatemala, we're looking for sponsors for murals in the remaining three classrooms! Each mural costs $250, but smaller donations are welcome too!
You can donate US $ or Euros using the "Donate" button on this page (through PayPal) of email me (carinsteen at for deposits on a Dutch bank account. THANKS!

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Starry Night for the Universe!

One of my favourite projects in Guatemala is Brillo de Sol, a school for kids with special needs. I already had the pleasure to paint two murals there, now I just finished the third for the kids from The Universe (Grade 1 & 2). When Ilene Kradin offered to sponsor it (her second mural already! She also sponsored the one of the girl with rabbit and Luna the dog!), well, it was a done deal! I didn’t even have to make a design because the teacher, Ms. Jenny, had asked me if I could paint Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Well, of course! It happens to me one of my favourite paintings and to be able to paint it on such a large scale (3.8 x 2.9m) was a joy!
Usually I only paint my own designs, but to pretend to be Van Gogh for a change was a great opportunity. I was looking forward to use Van Gogh’s rough brushstrokes and follow his swirls and curls. It’s not easy to paint someone else’s style, but it is also a great way to really get to know a piece of art and of course learn a lot.

Last Saturday, Ilene and I (besides sponsoring the mural she also offered to help!) started with a grid and than painted most of the sky. We made good progress, but by the end of the afternoon I was not quite satisfied and couldn’t tell exactly why. So it was good to leave it for a day and come back on Monday, today, to finish it.
 And this morning I realized what it was I didn’t like Vincent’s brush strokes! As much as I love them (in the original painting), they were too strong, too fierce, too imposing… So I decided to paint over them, blend colours, soften the whole image and make it lighter. Sorry Vincent! The result is much more tranquil and that is a good thing, because many of the kids in this classroom have concentration issues, so the last thing hey need is a crazy, frantic mural in their learning environment....
For the same reason, I also changed the Cyprus tree on the foreground. It was too dark and gloomy, too scary. Now it’s dancing in the wind with much lighter tones of purple, green and brown.

I sincerely apologize to Vincent van Gogh for making changes to his masterpiece. I hope he’d understand why. I can only say that the teacher and kids are happy and that’s what matters most to me.

Thanks a million to Ilene Kradin for sponsoring this and the previous mural, as well as for helping out!

And now that we’re back to the topic of sponsoring, the rest of the kids want a mural too! The Ocean kids (Grade 5 & &), The Forest (Grade 3 & 4) and The Scientists (Grade 7-8) all want to transform their wall. And you can help to do so! Sponsor a mural for only $250 and those kids will have a permanent work of art in their classroom… (Partial donations welcome too…)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Community Mural in Chimachoy DONE!!!

I’ve been looking forward for weeks to write this very last update on the community mural in Chimachoy, but now that the time is there, I’m actually at loss for words…

This mural has been the centre of my life for the last few months now. Starting with the $1000 grant I got from Te Pollination Project in March, I then had to find more funding (the lacking $1500) in order to realize the project, which was a little stressful. I had already handed over $400 to the community for wall repair and plastering, so there was no way I could drop out. Thankfully the rest of the funding came in and after a series of workshops with the students from both elementary and high school to define the themes and create images, we were ready to start painting by the end of June.

All in all, everything has worked out perfectly. Yes, the painting did take much longer than expected, there was some rain, a lot of extreme cold and heat. Even a hurricane that literally forced me to come off my ladder, but we managed it. The mural is now finished, all 65 meters of it!

It has taken more than a hundred hours in painting, about the same amount of time in designing, prepping the workshops and teaching, as well as about 25 hours in traveling. I will miss those weekly trips to Chimachoy but on the other hand, man, am I glad it’s done now!

Yesterday was a perfect last day. I was happy to have plenty of help from the high school kids as well as volunteers Jenneca Fevos and Marie Duca.  We had to finish painting the last 15 meters plus the titles of all the panels in three languages (Kaqchikel, Spanish and English) in just two days and we did! We were about to finish when it started raining at 4.30pm, but after a short break we were able to continue with the last titles and touchups.

A little emotional I got in the car, ready to go home. As we drove by the mural for the very last time, I was just thinking how grateful I was for so many things, one of them being the rickety pick-up truck I had hired for our transportation holding up during al those trips. (It wasn’t the best of cars, but its owner Carlos is very friendly and reliable but mostly because it was the cheapest option…). I shouldn’t have had that thought, because of course, right at that moment, the car stopped short. Dead as can be.
So there we were. The two volunteers were in the back of the pick-up truck, it was already getting dark, thick raindrops falling down and a motor that just didn’t want to start. I had already locked up the school so there wasn’t even a place to take shelter if the rain would start for real. And where do you get a mechanic, this late, at an hour distance from Antigua? But thankfully, with the help of some rough looking Chimachoy men, Carlos was able to fix whatever was wrong and twenty minutes later we were on our way, racing down the hills under rumbling skies. The huge traffic jam we got caught in was a bit of an anti-climax, but we made it and at 7.30pm I was finally home.

More on this project will surely follow, but for now I’m going to take a short break. I want to thank Jenneca and Marie for being there with me yesterday; Carlos for getting us there (and BACK!); the kids; the teachers; the people from Chimachoy who cheered us on and of course all the people and institutions that sponsored this project. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Marvelous Murals in the Mountains

Nice write-up in Qué Pasa Magazine!!!!

“Near the imposing volcano of Acatenango, amongst the rolling hills and sprawling green fields, lies the village of Chimachoy, a small indigenous aldea of only 700 habitants. It is one of several villages dotted across the countryside of the San Andrés Itzapa region where the Kaqchiquel-speaking residents maintain and celebrate their Mayan roots and traditions. Many community members support their families through agriculture.

In Chimachoy, the two small community schools provide a standard education to local children according to the Guatemalan National Curriculum and try to foster creativity, critical-thinking and social consciousness in their students through extracurricular, sporting and cultural activities. As part of an initiative by the organization MuralArte Guate, the school Director – Laura Esperanza Vasquez de Back – and the staff of both schools are currently implementing an art program to help the children celebrate their roots and visualize the intriguing combination of tradition and modernity within their community.

This fascinating project – run by the Dutch artist Carin Steen, who has painted dozens of community murals across Central America and Europe – involves painting murals and running art workshops in different public spaces, communities and schools across Guatemala. The project is aimed not just at beautifying public spaces – but also using art to provoke dialogue and to transmit positive, constructive messages that benefit and honor the local community.
In Chimachoy, MuralArte is painting a giant mural in collaboration with the school kids and the community as a whole that will depict the culture and history of the community and the vision that its habitants have for their future.

The aim of this fantastic project is to bring the local community together to create a valuable collective work of art and to raise awareness of the importance of celebrating cultural heritage and fostering collective projects to strengthen communities.”