The Children’s Wall
By Carol A. Curtis
Sometimes the stars align and it’s a beautiful thing to behold, especially when things don’t start out that way. A simple request from our gardener set us off on an adventure that ended in friendship, community spirit, and gained confidence. Our gardener asked if it would be alright to trim the vines that were growing over our wall and nearly reaching the ground outside. Since this was only the second week in our San Juan Cosalá house, we didn’t think twice about saying, “Sure.” Once he was done, we were left with a bare, grey wall that had the remnants of old graffiti. We had unwittingly cut down the colorful vines and added a very unbecoming view to our neighborhood.
A few days later, some children came to visit us and I asked if they might be interested in helping paint a mural on the wall. This led to very enthusiastic statements about flowers, lizards, butterflies, and snakes. It seemed that we would not lack for artists. Having been teachers for years, my husband and I knew that we couldn’t turn the kids loose with buckets of paint. We needed an artistic leader. There entered Arcelia Real.
It seems that the wall wasn’t the only thing trying to gain a new outlook on life. Arcelia (Arce) had stumbled through difficult times. She was born and raised in Ajijic in a home that was built by her grandfather. Her roots are deep and her love for the community great. But that didn’t mean she had an easy time. She credits her mother with raising five children by herself. Her mother always believed in her and worked hard to provide what she could for all the children. There wasn’t enough money to allow Arce to finish high school, though, so she took on many jobs including bartender, secretary, house painter, and more. As with so many young people all over the world, Arce turned to alcohol to numb her feelings of failure and loss. She really didn’t feel that she was doing what she was meant to do, until she began exploring her love of art. With the prodding of a boss at one of her jobs, she started painting some fun characters on school walls to provide the children with a colorful environment. This was the beginning of having her believe in herself as an artist. Then came the next gift. A Canadian employer saw her potential and made her a promise: Stop drinking and I’ll pay for art classes. And she did!
Arcelia’s favorite phrase is “Thank you, God.” And she is most thankful that others believed in her and gave her the chance; plus that she had the fortitude to make the changes. So, she came from her own Cinco de Mayo to ours to make a difference in the neighborhood and for the children that were here to be young artists.
She started by painting the entire wall white … a blank canvas for the children who eagerly awaited their turn. Then, she directed the thirty or more children who came to leave their mark. We had suggested that the wall show three of the local environments – open fields, water, and the mountains. The children took right to this idea; they worked well together and enthusiastically waited for Arce’s assistance. Parents helped the smallest artists to be a part of this experience. Others sat on the curb and watched the project progress.
Arcelia spent three days guiding the children. She never lost sight of the fact that the wall art had to be theirs. She showed them how to hold a brush or helped them with an idea for a bird, but it was their art. The end project is truly the children’s wall. Not more graffiti, no more grey bricks. We have a bright and fun art piece right here on our Cinco de Mayo in San Juan. Of course, now the children want to know what’s next?