Instead, they used their talents, imaginations and a little bit of paint to create their own images of identity and the power of the past, present and future high on the wall in the main atrium.
With the swoop of a curtain and a round of applause, the students this week revealed their new mural in honor of Native American Heritage Month. The fresco, which the students completed after eight weeks and 160 hours of work, is the final step in the “Sacred Images: A Vision of Native American Rock Art” program facilitated by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art.
“It’s going to leave an indelible impression here at Hillcrest for many years,” Dr. Paul Kirby, Hillcrest Assistant Principal, said at the unveiling.
The program, with financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Zoo, Arts and Parks Program; the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation; and the Utah State Office of Education, began with a daylong field trip to Nine Mile Canyon, where students examined and drew ancient rock art and learned about the Fremont people that once occupied the canyon.
A renowned Kiowa-Apache storyteller, Dovie Thomason, visited the school and shared her experiences in classrooms and in a student assembly. The students were so moved by Thomason’s words they included her image in the far left panel of the mural, representing the past.
The main focus of the mural is a student who is sleeping her mind immersed in the things she has learned, representing the present and future. She is surrounded by petroglyphs, depictions of the universe, aurora borealis, and specific images that relate to the identities of the group of students involved in the project such as a guitar and each of their faces.
The students worked with their art teacher, Kari Bennett, and CDEA artist-in-residence Kevin Goodrich to create their finished product. Aside from learning about how to express an idea through art, several of the students said the project taught them more about their own valued identity.
“I learned a bit more about my culture,” said Joey Cly, a student with Navajo heritage who helped paint the mural. “If I had never done this, I wouldn’t have learned about rock art.”
In celebration of the mural’s unveiling, community dignitaries, students and District administrators gathered to learn about the Sacred Images project and give homage to all those involved in the process. Several Canyons students sang and performed dances from their native heritage, and Shirlee Silversmith, Director of Utah Division of Indian Affairs, addressed the crowd.
Her words emphasized the importance of the location where the project, and student inspiration, began Nine Mile Canyon.
“There is a spirituality in these symbols, and a message from our ancestors,” Silversmith said. “There is a worry these beautiful messages will be destroyed. My message to you is to take care of what is in the canyons on the rock walls. Teach others to respect it and protect it for generations to come.”