The newest mural at Hood River Middle School is both companion and counterpoint to the older murals located across the west courtyard.
While the new work is a vivid “graffiti” style, and the older murals a realistic presentation, both follow a common theme.
Artistically different but historically connected to five pioneer murals done nine years ago, the new mural next to the cafeteria entrance provides a visual blast of color to what had been a bland, dark wall.
Eighth-grade students (now freshmen-to-be) started it in April and completed it in early June, with the help of artist-in-residence Toma Villa.
“Toma is so cool,” one student said. He challenged the students to express them in a “graffiti” style unseen in any school mural in the county.
Deylan Gudiel said the mural shows “the connection of the Columbia River Gorge to the past and to help us to learn about the Native American people who lived here before us and to show the beauty of the Gorge.”
While jarring to some eyes, admits Principal Brent Emmons, it presents a modern vision of the Gorge while embracing humans’ ancient yearning for connection to place.
“Welcoming” is how Noah Lane describes the panoramic cross-channel sunset and vista of Hood River and White Salmon, Mount Hood and Mount Adams, and an optimistic young Native American couple and their baby, who stand and take it all in.
Eighth-graders in Carol Birdsell’s art class designed and painted the two-panel mural, under the guidance of Villa, himself a member of the Warm Springs Tribe. He worked with the students as part of the ongoing Confluence Project, which brings culturally informed art projects into schools throughout the Gorge.
Villa also supervised a mural done last fall in the Performing Arts Center lobby at Wy’east Middle School. (In front of HRMS is another Confluence Project directed by Ann McDonald in 2012, three pillars of student-created tiles interpreting Native American lore.)
“We were learning about Native Americans and we thought it would be cool,” said Emily Gallegos, explaining that their teacher identified the location as a dark, bland area that needed some attention.
“We also thought it would be cool to incorporate the Gorge and Mount Adams and Mount Hood,” she said.
“We talked to Mr. Emmons, he agreed, but he also wanted it to tie into the murals over there (on the east wall of the school courtyard between the main building and the west wing),” said Gallegos. Those murals depict pioneers or settlers arriving in the valley, planting and harvesting, and interacting with Native Americans. Students painted those panels with the assistance of artist-in-residence Janet Essley.
“They both reflect the Native Americans in Hood River, and settling down,” said Pauline Le.
Lucy Fine said, “Over there it’s more of the history of Hood River and you come over here and it’s more modern times. It’s a timeline. It ties into the murals but it gives it a twist. We used different materials and it makes it unique.”
While the 2004 mural colors are realistic and earth-toned, the 2013 panels are brighter and more stylized. The students used spray paint in general and brushes for finishing touches.
Kinoshita said, “graffiti itself has a really bad reputation. Normally people think, ‘It’s all over buildings and the side of trains,’ but this is to show it’s not always bad and it can be beautiful if we make it so.”
Asked what the reaction has been to the mural, Lane said, “They really like it. They walk by and say that it brightens up this area and makes it feel more welcoming.”
“It’s interesting because when we came to lunch and people were stopping and, ‘It’s so cool,’” Kinoshita said.
“A lot of people didn’t expect it to turn out as well as it did,” she said. “Often people look at art done by kids and it’s like ‘Oh ... that looks ... great ... yeah ...’ but when they look at this they really do think it looks great.”
Kinoshita said, “This is what we wanted, and as long as we liked it and the teachers are okay with it that’s all that really matters.”
Le said, “The Native Americans live on and they are still a part of who we are. Like with Lewis and Clark being ‘the ideal people,’ Native Americans were indeed an important part.”
Gallegos said, “Every town has its untold story, and we have the Native Americans looking over their homeland that they created or are starting to create.”
“It’s trying to show the message that we wanted to get across, and that’s the point of doing public art, for everyone to see, in the community,” Gudiel said.