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.