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New mural celebrates Elsie Allen High School’s diversity, namesake

A colorful mural, 30-feet wide and 10-feet tall, now greets Elsie Allen High School students as they walk to class.

It depicts their school’s namesake, Elsie Allen, a Pomo woman who was an advocate for education.

The mural, painted by students, shows Allen weaving a basket underneath a tree full of colorful flags.

It not only recognizes and honors Allen, but also the school’s diversity of cultures and the talent and dedication of its students, said Kathryn Loomis, a former art teacher who addressed students, teachers and organizers at an unveiling ceremony Monday.

Principal Gabe Albavera said it’s the first big mural on the campus and a step in the effort to beautify the campus to spotlight “the creativity, the commitment, the passion, the talent of our students.”

It’s also one of the few murals in south Santa Rosa representing people of color.

“Our school is majority Latinx but we also have students from all different parts of the world,” Albavera said. “To be able to see a female of color on our wall honored in that way has a huge impact.”

Elsie Allen High’s student population is 91% students of color and 73% come from low-income families.

Seeing the community come together to honor those students on Monday, “I get emotional,” he said.

Four students spent time over the summer painting parts of the mural under an apprenticeship with Artstart, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit that provides guidance to Sonoma County art students and organizes public art projects.

Kimberly Escoto, 17, a senior, was one of the apprentices and helped painted Elsie Allen herself.

“I loved it,” Escoto said. “It was really inspiring for the students, having all of our cultures represented on this mural, having all of us come together from all these different groups and working together.”

For her, working with Artstart had a personal impact as well.

“In my family art was never viewed as something you could make a career out of,” Escoto said. “Being part of this mural and seeing everything come together was really impactful to me.”

The mural began in Spring 2020 when 25 black boxes the size of a shoe box were sent out to 25 Elsie Allen High School students. Each box contained a rectangular patch of mural fabric with a flag design, brushes, paints, a water container and a paint palette.

Those materials would be used to paint 25 vibrant flags representing different nationalities and identities such as the Dominican Republic, LGBTQIA, Pomo tribal nations, Mexico and more. In the mural, the flags all hang in an oak tree looming over Allen who’s weaving alongside a wolf, or Lobo, which is their school mascot.

The mural was completed in September under the direction of lead artist and designer Hannah Day and was paid for through donations from the Elsie Allen High School Foundation, Impact 100 Redwood Circle and City of Santa Rosa Community Advisory Board.

One alumna, Rose Hammock, an enrolled Round Valley Indian tribal member who is of Pomo, Wailacki and Maidu descent, spoke to the audience at the unveiling. She is a member of Pomo Project, an organization that provides workshops and cultural teachings.

“Being a student here, a lot of people looked at me funny when I said I was Pomo, because they didn’t know what that was,” Hammock said to the crowd. “Being able to have art like this is a beautiful opportunity to tell our story as Native and Indigenous people.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

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