Jessica Keller photo: Seattle-based contemporary artist Hiawatha D. mixes paint he used in a mural he painted in the Catharine Blaine K-8 School gym earlier this month. The artist, who focuses his art around Black lives, returned to the school this summer, 16 years after painting the gym’s first mural with a group of students he was mentoring.
Jessica Keller photo: Seattle-based contemporary artist Hiawatha D. mixes paint he used in a mural he painted in the Catharine Blaine K-8 School gym earlier this month. The artist, who focuses his art around Black lives, returned to the school this summer, 16 years after painting the gym’s first mural with a group of students he was mentoring.
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When Catharine Blaine K-8 School physical education specialist Trina Pickens wanted the mural painted on a wall of the gymnasium refreshed, she knew she wanted one artist to complete the work — the man who created the artwork to begin with 16 years ago — renowned Seattle-based artist Hiawatha D.

Following some stops and starts, the mural celebrating community, positivity and racial inclusion is now finished, with Hiawatha D. adding the last touches to the artwork last week.

THE PROJECT

Pickens pitched the idea of either repainting the mural or creating a new one on the gym wall after meeting with the artist and his wife, Veronica Very Davis, in January at his nationally acclaimed Iconic Black Women art exhibition at the Northwest African American Museum.

Pickens then coordinated with the artist, his wife, PTA leaders and the Catharine Blaine Race and Equity Team to discuss what the project, labeled The Healing Mural, would entail. Themes centered around inclusion, community, connections, relationships and positivity, Pickens said, adding Hiawatha D. decided what should be featured in the mural.

“This mural celebrates inclusion when there was pretty much a flagrant history of exclusion,” Pickens said.

Initially, the mural was going to be just a school project, but after some thought, Pickens realized it should be a community project because the school gym is used by more than 600 students as well as for weekly community activities and events.

“It’s a legacy piece,” Pickens said.

She also didn’t want to apply for art grants, perhaps taking money away from neighborhoods who could use those funds, because she knew Magnolia could pay for it. So, after raising some initial money through an auction, Pickens set up a GoFundMe account to raise the rest of the money.

“This mural will celebrate and affirm the fact that Black people should be seen and heard in a place where they don’t often see themselves reflected in the community,” according to the GoFundMe page.

“It really is a picture of hope, a picture of power and a picture of inspiration,” Very Davis said.

Although he was given the option to recreate the original mural, which was an abstract expressionist piece featuring Seattle scenes, Hiawatha D. said it was time to tell a new story.

Telling stories through his art has always been important to him. As a student in art school, after another student mocked a family portrait, Hiawatha D. decided that his artwork needed to highlight Black lives and tell stories that reflected his world.

“My whole thing with art is I’m supposed to tell a story,” he said. “I’m supposed to tell my story.”

FULL CIRCLE

Both Hiawatha D. and Very Davis have strong ties to the Magnolia school.

Hiawatha D. sent his son and daughter to Blaine when Seattle Public Schools created an open-school policy for K-8 children. He said he and his wife at the time elected to send his children to Blaine because the school they attended did not offer the students the same types of programs and classes, such as foreign languages, as were available in Magnolia.

On the second day of school, however, one of his son’s classmates drew a picture of Hiawatha D’s son with a noose and a knife in a backpack. A conversation with a school administrator led to Hiawatha D. working with Latino and Black boys, who were frustrated because they didn’t see themselves represented on campus. He decided to paint the mural with their help to make them feel more included.

In the 1980s, Very Davis was bused to Magnolia to attend Briarcliff School and then Blaine when her school was shut down.

Very Davis said she struggled trying to find her place at the school.

“I just recall not being seen here,” she said.

Very Davis also experienced her first encounter with overt racism when her teacher called her a derogatory name, n*****.

Still, Very Davis said her experience in Magnolia was valuable to her and the other students bused to the school.

“We were able to make relationships with people who didn’t look like us,” she said. “They were able to form relationships with people who didn’t look like them.”

Very Davis wonders, however,  what her experience would have been like — how powerful it would have been to feel like she had a voice and was recognized and valued by her peers and teachers.

“It gives you confidence and self awareness and the feeling you’re supposed to be here,” Very Davis said of representation.

Hiawatha D.’s new mural puts Black children and adults front and center, which not only makes people feel included, it shows others that children of color have a place at their school.

“I don’t just want you to see that I am black,” Hiawatha D. said. “I want you to see that I am human, that I am special and I am worthy.”

Very Davis said Blaine students deserve to be recognized at their school.

“These children need more than talk,” Very Davis said. “They need commitment. They need accountability and responsibility. … They need to have confidence that they have a community that cares.”

GETTING INVOLVED

While the fundraising effort has made significant strides, Pickens hopes community members will still want to get involved. As of Monday, the GoFundMe effort has raised $23,797 of the $30,000 goal.

“The power of this is having people take part in making this happen in our neighborhood,” Pickens said.

To learn more about the project, to watch videos about the mural’s progression or to donate, people can go to www.gofundme.com/f/mural-project-stories-and-art.

After school starts, Pickens said there will be some sort of reveal to show the community what has been accomplished, as well as share stories from different people involved, including children.

“I could never have anticipated the depth and stories and conversations that have been and will be a result of this needed and beautiful healing mural,” Pickens said in an email.