The Old Pueblo is starting to get noticed for a few exciting things including the many murals that can be found downtown and around the valley. (Yes, Tucson is an actual valley with mountains surrounding us – not sure what that is up north). So, a few years ago, I started to look at the many empty and ugly walls in our city and I tried to imagine what would look good here and there – sort of like when kids look up at clouds and dream what they could be.
I became interested in murals when I saw the Wyland Whale Murals while visiting Hawaii about 20 years ago so it inspired me to do my first mural – in my gym at work where only a few people would see it. I didn’t do another mural for a long, long time.
This is the 15th installment of “Old Pueblo Abuelo,” a Sunday night thought on positive things happening in the Old Pueblo from a sometimes cranky and often times humorous grandfather actually born in Tucson and writing from my desk in Tucson.…
Then, I found this ugly and forgotten part of my school where weeds grew and wild animals did their thing. It was literally a huge cat box. This space was supposed to be a sand box for the kindergarten classes but all the fun equipment was on the playground so it never got used. I built a boardwalk around the perimeter, planted some trees and some cacti and added a small fish pond. Then, I added a desert mural, an ocean mural and a rain forest mural.
Our school got a new kindergarten building a few years later and the architect designed a wall to shield all the air conditioners and that became a huge ocean mural that the kids added paintings to. Then, a southwest mural (I got a $200 grant to help paint that one) went up and then a huge dinosaur mural that took a very long time because I only painted like 45 minutes at a time. An African safari mural also went up.
I painted the solar system heading into the STEM Lab and one of our former teachers, Joanna Dawkins, added an astronaut. Then, I painted the Death Star in my office but had to stop because I used spray paint with no air circulation. I couldn’t breathe. I was off to the races (on my own dime).
From there, the Six Pillars of Character were put up along with a rocket ship and then my attention went to several butterflies and a rain and umbrella mural. Then came the map of the United States – or so it was supposed to be. So many people said they had one at their school that I added Canada and Mexico. North America – so there.
A large chessboard went up and an imaginary caterpillar. Next? Insects.
I know murals are part of my Hispanic heritage so I will never let them go. I know they will eventually be painted over because future administrators might like blank walls and think murals are nothing more than graffiti.
I know this to be true because we had a teacher from one of our sister schools teach summer school at our school about 15 years ago and she noticed we had a bucket of sidewalk chalk out for the students. She told me her principal wouldn’t allow it because he felt sidewalk chalk was a “gateway” to graffiti. Hardly.
Sidewalk chalk is a tool used to express an imagination and murals are away to live in an imaginary world. That’s where I live most days.
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee and he earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater. Contact Andy Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org