New Elsie Allen High School mural ready after lengthy journey

  • Elsie Allen Freshman Gaby Camacho takes a break from her school studies to use her phone in front of a mural that tells the stories of past Elsie Allen students and family history, in part directed by artist Mario Uribe who used various students of the past years to create and finish the project. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Standing amid icons of the California farmworker movement are Buenaventura Cervantes and Calida Howell, local women captured with paint on canvas in a massive mural covering the walls of the Elsie Allen High School library.

Cervantes, the mother of a student artist who worked on the piece, is depicted in a thick purple sweatshirt, carrying a box of winegrapes. Howell, an Elsie Allen senior who painted portions of the piece, is shown standing at the far end of the mural, holding a scroll dedicating the artwork to farmworkers of Sonoma County.

Also depicted are images of industry giants, students, gods and laborers. "This piece is a journey," said Elsie Allen art teacher Paul Gaudreau.

Completion of "Sonoma County Farmworkers Mural," which will be formally unveiled at a ceremony on campus Friday, has been a journey of its own.

The huge piece was constructed on multiple panels 18 feet in height that now stretch 56 feet in length. The mural wraps around a corner and dominates a section of Elsie Allen's library.

It has had multiple homes, has been rendered homeless at times and has taken seven years to complete. It's a piece with history as long and meandering as its image of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god depicted as a feathered serpent that winds across the entire piece.

"The process of painting this was really dynamic," Gaudreau said. "It's a powerful piece of art."

Spearheaded by former ArtStart lead artist Mario Uribe and funded with seed money from the California Human Development Corporation, the piece initially was planned for the walls of a Quonset hut that now is home to Roseland University Prep on Sebastopol Road. When the first panel was completed, it was deemed not to be a good fit by RUP officials, so it began a migrant journey to various locations before finding a home in the Santa Rosa City Schools district offices on Ridgway Avenue.

Subsequent panels were started and stopped, reflecting the nature fundraising progress and work schedules of students working summer hours with ArtStart, a nonprofit art apprentice organization.

In all, the project took seven years and $30,000 to complete. The first panel remains at Santa Rosa's district office while the rest of the mural is at Elsie Allen. The project was overseen by ArtStart until the final phase, for which Elsie Allen students were selected to complete the work under Uribe's guidance.

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