The Colgate Scene
May 2000
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A picture of the world
by John D. Hubbard

Whoever climbed the scaffolding discovered an artistic talent.

Vanessa Lee '02 works on a group of dancers.

Delores Walters shows off the mural to President Charles Karelis.

Eli Thomas inspired everyone who took up a brush.

"What are the visions of the students?" asked artist Eli Thomas when he was contracted to oversee the creation of a mural at the ALANA Cultural Center early in the winter.

     Those diverse visions now span the three 5' 5" by 11' 8" panels that form the balcony in the center's multipurpose room. Arctic dogsledders, a rainforest canoeist, a tribal drummer, Indian dancers, a jazz trumpeter, an Andean family, an autumnal dragon, a vivid hummingbird, parading camels, a hidden wolf and so much more populate a balanced world connected by an ever-changing but consistently dramatic sky and flowing colorful ribbons.

     At the heart of the mural is the storyteller with a rapt audience at the foot of a great spreading tree.

     "We started with the basic image of the storyteller who we felt was involved with all cultures," said Vanessa Lee '02 at the unveiling of the mural in March. Lee was involved in the project every step of the way, from the first conceptual meetings through the design and on to the painting phase. Thomas and a variety of students took two weeks to complete the project.

     "It was a lot of hard work, but it was always enjoyable," Lee told the gathering. "Eli brought our ideas to life."

     Thomas, whom Delores Walters, director of the ALANA Cultural Center, referred to as "the perfect match" for the project, is an Onondaga and member of the Wolf Clan whose paintings tell stories of the interconnectedness of all living things.

     "You ready to paint?" Thomas would ask over and over. While he did create parts of the mural -- look for the hidden wolf -- Thomas's key role was that of spiritual guide, joke teller and motivator.

     "I am thankful and honored to share this freedom of expression. Everyone who climbed the scaffold -- I saw the inspiration in their eyes."

     Among those inspired was Nancy Taranto, a student and secretary in the dean's office. She wrote, "In the actual planning and painting of the mural we combined our diverse perspectives, talents and styles to create a panorama that knows no ethnic boundaries."

     Senior Karen Santana suggested the idea two years ago, thinking a mural would be a welcoming feature as well as an artistic way of representing a diverse community for the center.

     "I feel a great sense of accomplishment," said Santana. "Although I didn't do the actual painting, I feel as though I left my ideas and hopes for Colgate's community of color. When I first saw the mural, it was more than I envisioned because it had evolved into everyone's ideas and hopes."

     Thomas felt from the beginning "the goal was to show community from a global perspective through a collage of various images. One idea grew into many. Nothing stands alone in the mural," Thomas told student interviewer Natalie Jarudi '02.

     Walters sees in the mural "our multicultural visions of the Colgate and world communities." Others pointed out details, offered explanations of them and shared their feelings at having participated.

     Phinel Petit-Frere '01 contributed to a scene of women walking away from a shore. It depicts the weather, clothing and body language of a Caribbean scene. "A mural is a work of art that gives off so much energy."

     The Ghanaian Horned Mask was painted by Loncey Mills '01, a studio art major, who wanted to be sure Africa was represented. Mills also created a hummingbird inspired by Peru's Nazca lines. "When I look at the mural now there are some things I would like to change, both from the standpoint of my Caribbean-British-U.S. upbringing and as a control freak. All that aside, I am pleased with the outcome and to get the `good feelings' Eli talked so much about," said Mills.

     Rasheedah Salour-Taylor '01 explained the three faces that appear together in the left panel. "The African represents the slaves brought over here. The indigenous person represents the people already here and the conquistador represents people who came and colonized Cen-tral and South America. It feels good to know that I contributed to some-thing I hope will become a legacy."

     Garland Seto '03, who also had a hand in the creation of the three faces, saw, "the diversity within the human race. It means a lot to be part of a project . . . that brings together the many ideas from diverse individuals."

     The mural is a unifying symbol for many who were a part of its creation. "Working together with very different people and getting all our different ideas to come together into something so beautiful was a truly rewarding experience," said Keith Morris '02.

     "This project for me was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with others, to learn about certain aspects of a number of cultures and to create together a beautiful representation of exactly what we hope to make real in our world one day," said Courtney Gildersleeve '02. She also spoke of "a sense of joy and tranquility" Thomas brought to the project and sees reflected in the final work "the cooperation and the positive energy that went into making it."

     Shortly after spring break, a com-parative education class, taught by department chair Heidi Ross, met in the multipurpose room.

     "What struck me, aside from the fact that it was a community activity, was that the mural seemed to have a spiritual element. I see it as a symbol of community and inclusiveness," said Ross.

     Chipper Houston, who as Cultural Center coordinator has shown the mural to several visitors, termed the work, "wonderful" and reported, "students are coming on their own because they are hearing about the mural on campus. I get a kick out of asking them if they can find the wolf, which is Eli's trademark."

     "It sounds as if the word is spreading," said Walters, "and I like that. We want to capitalize on this energy. I'm hoping maybe we can convince people to come into the center to see we are trying to promote all our different cultures."

     It is the vision.

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