Friday, May 7, 2010

History on the Walls

The ambitious Downtown Mural Project has set out to retell the story of Gallup, NM, through a series of murals on immense wall spaces throughout downtown.

Fortunately, the Gallup Chamber of Commerce has published a brochure that goes into more detail on each mural. So, in addition to being able to admire the art work, we could learn about the story and cultural references depicted in the work.

(To enlarge a photo, just double click on it.)

Multi-Cultural Women Mural.

Artist Erica Rae Sykes uses vibrant color to create a dreamlike space that offers a tribute to the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni women who have carried on the cultural traditions of daily life. The large symbolic storyteller at the far left of the mural pays homage to women who have kept multi-cultural memories alive by telling stories of the past.

Gallup Community Life Mural.

Artist Rick Sarracino shows some elements, e.g., the public library, schools, coal mining, the arts, and even a dark side, that have helped shape community life throughout Gallup’s history.

Ceremonial Mural.

Artist Irving Bahe uses the Navajo Beautyway concept (Beauty above me and Beauty below me) to depict the unity and life that the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial brings. The Inter-Tribal Ceremonial began in 1922 and includes a world-class exhibition of the finest Native American arts and crafts, rodeo, pow-wow, parades, and ritual dance performed by many tribes.

Coal Mining Era Mural.

Artist Andrew Butler captures a piece of Gallup’s Wild West history when he depicts the mob coal miner strike-related conflict in 1935 in which the sheriff was shot with his own gun. This event happened in the very alley in which this mural is painted.

This adjacent mural honors a Navajo rail crew, legendary for their speed. It also shows a strip mine on the Navajo Reservation and the early timber industry nearby.

Great Gallup Mural.

Artists Paul Newman and Steve Heil emphasize the themes of landscape, railroads, Highway 66, rodeos, Western life, and coal mining. The shape of the mural was chosen to resemble windswept geologic strata, showing layers of history evocative of rock formations.

Note: When the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad construction crews and suppliers were working in this area, they would go to David L. Gallup, paymaster for their pay. They had to go to Gallup--the name stuck.

Native American Trading Mural.

Artist Chester Kahn shows the nature of commerce in Gallup throughout history. The top frame shows the railroad yards where the Navajos sold their sheep and wool; other scenes show (clockwise) a weaver, a painter, finished baskets, the sale of rugs, a silversmith, and the Ceremonial Exhibit Hall (center) with the finished rugs.

Note: Wool in spring and lambs in fall meant that Native Americans needed credit between seasons. Enter the shop owner who would advance credit upon deposit of valued items, e.g., rugs and jewelry. The pawn shop was born.

Long Walk Home Mural.

Artist Richard K. Yazzie emphasizes the four sacred colors to tell of the forced march in 1864 from Canyon de Chelly to Fort Sumner, a distance of 400 miles, enduring harsh winter weather [from right to left, the Navajo way (black)], escorted by soldiers (blue segment), their return to their home in the Gallup area (yellow), and the blessings of returning home to Canyon de Chelly (white). All events are joined by the rainbow and tied together as a protection with the eagle as guardian.

Zuni Mural.

Painted by Zuni artist Geddy Epaloose, the mural shows the history of the Zuni--from agriculture (corn on the right) that was fully developed by 1350 to village life (the ladder descends into the kiva, the religious center of the village) to wagons loaded with trade goods, including jewelry and pottery (far left in the photo).

Navajo Code Talker Mural.

Artist Be Sargent gives honor to those Navajos who served the military as Code Talkers during World War II. But more importantly, she tries to show that the greatest asset of The People is their language by depicting the code being passed on to the children by the Code Talkers.

We have become more interested in the Code Talkers as we learn more about their experiences as children taken from their homes and sent away to boarding schools aimed at forcing them to abandon their Navajo culture and become "civilized."

But in spite of those early experiences, the first 29 Code Talkers volunteered for the Marines and used the Navajo language as the basis for a code that was crucial in defeating the Japanese in WW II.

These last three photos show close-up segments of the mural (fourth from the bottom). The seventh person from the right in this photo is shown holding the Victory medal.

A beautiful way to study the history of Gallup.

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