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
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.
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
of San Andrés Xecul and…
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!