SAGA volunteers recently spent a day with the women and children of AWARE, transforming a plain wooden fence in the shelter's playground into a colorful and meaningful mural.
"The women and children I have heard from can't believe how beautiful the mural is," said Swarupa Toth, volunteer coordinator at AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies).
SAGA (Southeast Alaska Guidance Association) volunteer Kiernon Roche, known to his friends as Glide, was the artist and organizer behind the mural. He ran into Toth at AWARE's Healing Art Exhibit at the Silverbow in April, and mentioned his growing interest in Northwest Coast Native art. Toth told him that the AWARE center wanted a mural.
Though a little hesitant at first to accept responsibility for the project, Glide eventually plunged in. After meeting with guests from Sealaska Heritage Foundation to discuss how to avoid copyright issues in creating Northwest Coast designs, he started to work.
"Every single Saturday after that I would come in to the shelter and work on designs for the mural," he said.
Glide gathered ideas from fellow SAGA team leaders Chelsea Larson, Kristy Miller, John Santino, Megan Mulcahy and Eric Buhman. Once he settled on the final idea, he outlined a 50-yard sketch on the fence. The design depicts a story in bold Northwest-Coast inspired forms.
"The story is as follows," Glide said. "A woman, drawn in form-line style, starts off the mural as her hair swirls and morphs into the story of a caterpillar making its journey through life. In the beginning its happiness is shared with other baby animals and their parents, but then the Bear-Bull figure appears on the scene and the caterpillar hides into its cocoon. But, an Eagle-Raven creature, whose wing resembles the logo of the AWARE shelter, shoots sun rays from its mouth, which bursts the caterpillar out of it's cocoon, emerging (into) a beautiful and bright butterfly, protected by and also inspiring its community."
When Glide was finished with the outline, SAGA volunteers and women and children from the shelter made a day of painting it in with vivid colors.
"The effect of the mural is tremendous yet subtle," Toth said. "The story behind the mural touches the women especially, and the children love to see the baby bear and fish."
Glide said he was pleased with the outcome.
"It was a bright sunny day and it took all day to do (it)," said Glide, "but I will never forget the smiles on the faces of the children and women there as they painted it in, and I will always remember Swarupa's warm comment during it: 'Glide, I think this mural will bring a lot of protective energy to the shelter for a long time to come.'"