Sunday, October 1, 2017

Matisse on the Slope of a Guatemalan Volcano

The 8 panels (1.2 x 1.2m each) that will decorate the fence

Nestled on the slopes of the Acatenango volcano, amidst stunning views of lush mountains and even the faraway coastline, lays the rather nondescript town of Acatenango. Or so they say, because during the five days we spent there painting a daycare centre, the town was covered in a thick mist, only to be replaced by regular heavy rain showers. The daycare centre is aptly called Las Nubes (The Clouds) and that’s about all we saw of the environment. No better place to bring some colour!
The daycare centre caters to about 50 children from the poorest families in town, mostly working at the local coffee farms. The little ones learn through games and crafts, the older ones receive help with their homework and they all enjoy their daily healthy lunch.

The building the centre is housed at could definitely use a lift. Besides a bit of colour, there were a lot of maintenances and improvements to be done. So we asked the Dutch foundation Colour4Kids for help and were very happy that our proposal for the mural and improvements was approved! 
About two weeks ago the work started. An unused shower was transformed into an extra bathroom so the kids don’t have to line up anymore. Some doors will be replaced, extra lights are being installed and the ugly zinc laminas that formed the division between the daycare centre and the house next door have been replaced by a proper fence. As we speak, the patio is being leveled out so the kids won’t fall into holes and gutters. Leaks have been mended, door posts have been repaired and many more small and bigger nuisances have been fixed.

On Monday September 25th we started painting. For once I didn’t have a fixed design, only the theme was set, the colourful cutouts by French artist Henri Matisse. As a little girl I was enthralled by the bright colours and imaginative shapes of Matisse’s art, a love that has only grown stronger over the years. I chose this theme for the daycare centre because the shapes and colours are uplifting, happy and open to imagination for children in any culture. It also easily transformed the rather shabby building in a light, modern and happy space for the children.
The result...
In five days we painted the long corridor, the hallway, two classrooms and 8 panels that will decorate the fence. There was no way I could have done it all by myself, so I was very grateful for the terrific team I had at my disposal. The entire staff of the daycare centre helped painting, including the cook! (The centre was closed for three days so we could work without the kids present). Many thanks to Ann, Anabella, Chrystel, Reina, Noelia and José! More help came from Belgian volunteers Mauro and Linsy and from Miguel Raymundo who not only drove us back and forth every day, but also helped painting.

Five long days later we were DONE! The children arrived on Friday afternoon and were thrilled with the result. It was party time, so of course there was cake and lemonade. It was also the moment I explained the children a bit about Henri Matisse and handed over an activity book I made based on Matisse’s designs that turns the paint job into a truly interactive mural. The book incites the children to learn colours (in English too), to fantasize about the different figures, to count, write, paint and draw. On Friday the kids were drawing and they all showed me their work, stating that they are artists too. I like to think that Matisse would have been proud!
Book presentation
It’s been a tough week, but the result is a true transformation that has made the staff and kids of Las Nubes very happy, and that’s what we do it for!

Thanks again to my fellow painters for a job well done and of course to Colour4Kids for so generously sponsoring this terrific project. 
A big thanks to Colour4Kids from Ann Wijns and Carin Steen!