March 1, 2013
Beloved Native American
murals at Wilson-Pacific may disappear
Condensed by Native Village
Washington: Seattle Public Schools hopes to preserve five large murals of Native Americans on its Wilson-Pacific campus. But the artist no longer wants to give the district his permission.
Andrew Morrison, an area artist, painted the murals and three others on the W-P campus over a period of seven years. He filled the dull, beige walls with images of friends, acquaintances and a Haida mythical figure along with two iconic chiefs.
However, Seattle School District needs to tear down the aging Wilson-Pacific buildings and build two new schools. At first, Morrison agreed to help preserve the murals. Later, he said poor communication from the district soured his desire to be part of the process.
The murals are a touchstone for the Licton Springs neighborhood and Seattle's Native American community. There's also a strong bond -- Seattle's Native American programs were housed at the school, and nearby Licton Springs, once a tribal gathering place.
Now that Seattle passed the school levy, new schools will be built, and the murals' fates is limbo.
District officials hope to preserve them by taking digital photos, then reproducing them at the new school buildings. They asked Morrison for permission, offered to pay costs, and promised him a seat on the school’s design committee.
Morrison, 31, considered the offer and asked officials to put their proposals in writing, which they did. But Morrison changed in mind He said that after much reflection, he’s won’t grant permission for his work to be reproduced.
Morrison said he’s lost trust in the district, in part because school officials never approached him about saving the murals until he started showing up at public meetings about the levy. He's also talked with four different officials and worries they'll continue to pass him along. .
“For many reasons,” he said, “it’s in my best interests to step away.”
Morrison, a member of the Apache and Haida tribes, created the first mural in 2001, a portrait of a Blackfeet friend from Canada.
Morrison didn’t attend the Indian Heritage Middle College that's been at Wilson-Pacific since 1989. But he has volunteered there and attended powwows, dinners, and other events as long as he can remember.
Wilson-Pacific neighbors held a block party when the first mural was finished. That inspired Morrison to keep going, even though he has received no pay for any of them.
He finished the second mural — images of friends and relatives wearing tribal regalia — on Sept. 11, 2001, just after the two airplanes flew into the twin towers in New York City. He remembers Indian Heritage students and teachers coming outside, surprised but happy to see something positive on that difficult day.
The last two murals — Chief Joseph and the one with the Haida mythical figure — were finished in 2007.
During the levy campaign, many people urged the district to renovate Wilson-Pacific instead of replacing it. They also wanted them to revitalize the Indian Heritage program, which also faces an uncertain
future. And, they wanted the murals saved, too.
Sarah Sense-Wilson is from the Urban Native Education Alliance. She also helps coordinate the Clear Sky Native Youth Council, which meets at the school. The murals “are an affirmation of our identity,” she said. Destroying them, “destroys the site’s cultural continuity.”
Bethany Elliott, 17 is on the Clear Sky Council. She
said the murals as a source of inspiration when she writes poetry.
Still, will stand by Morrison’s decision to withhold his permission to save them.
Dr. Kelvin Frank from the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, said he supports whatever Morrison decides, too. Yet he, too, values the murals at Wilson-Pacific, along with one Morrison created for United Indians at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center.
“As American Indians, very seldom do we see this type of work being displayed in urban settings,” Frank said. “When we do, we take it to heart.”
Neighbors living around Wilson-Pacific helped Morrison get funding for the materials for the Chief Joseph portrait.
Morrison is proud of how the murals raise awareness of Native history and have been a key to his artistic success. He said he worked hard to find common ground with the district, but didn’t feel those efforts were returned.
District officials had thought they were on good terms with Morrison, and hope he’ll change his mind.
“It is our desire to save his work,” said Lucy Morello, director of capital projects.
Morello says Morrison hasn’t told the district that he doesn’t want the murals reproduced. She hopes that’s a sign that they can still work together. School construction won’t start for several years.
Village © Gina Boltz
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