Sunday, November 01, 2009

Field trip with the artists from National Institute for Artists and Disabilities ... .

A few months ago the Richmond Police Department commissioned a mural for the wall of their waiting room from the artists of NIAD. There was such excitement! And -- there has been growing interest at the studio in the Rosie the Riveter national park that is becoming more and more of a presence in the city. The fact that Dorian's mother is a ranger and often picks her up at the end of the day in full uniform has sparked additional interest.

Since the handicaps and physical and mental challenges of this community are varied and -- in some instances -- profound, there is little knowledge of the themes the park inspires. For the most part, there is little sense of past or future; most live completely in the moment. That means that WWII or Rosie the Riveter or the significance of the home front mobilization so central to our work has little relevance in their world.

However, when work on the mural began, bits and pieces of the surrounding civic environment gradually made their way into the work; and someone brought in the SS Red Oak Victory ship. And -- Dorian had mentioned in passing one day that I was also in the mural. I later saw a small figure in a far right upper section standing proudly under a huge yellow hat that was instantly recognizable as that of a park ranger. The proportions are interesting. The hat was equal in size to everything under it, so that my body takes up only about a third of the image. And -- that's about right in the scheme of things.

The staff of teaching artists whose dedicated work with these clients so enriches their daily lives, seized upon the inspiration bubbling up from their students -- went to the library for photos of the SS Red Oak Victory for them to see and work from.

After visiting over lunch at Ford Point recently with NIAD staffers Belinda and her co-worker, Brian, it was decided that it could be very exciting if we could arrange a field trip to the actual victory ship moored in the Kaiser Shipyard less than 3 miles away. Within a week, I'd received permission from my supervisor and plans were quickly completed. Our NPS bus and driver, Don Holmes, were available for the trip. It would involve 3 members of staff (2 of whom followed by car), 14 artists, plus two in wheelchairs; all excited and inspired and ready to even tackle the scary gangplank to be on deck of the historic ship for the first time. I'd not envisioned our actually boarding, but once there it seemed reasonable to make the attempt. Almost everyone rose to the occasion, though coming back down posed problems for at least one -- but we made a game of it and she prevailed in the end.

It was a delightful excursion!

The police chief was invited to meet us at the ship for a photo-op, but he had been up-ended by the awful situation at the high school that was suddenly drawing national media attention to Richmond and long hours defending the department and meetings with school officials and irate and frightened parents were making his joining our adventure impossible. However, the West County Times columnist and a photographer answered the call to cover the story despite the sensational goings-on across town -- and this weekend there will be a story out of Richmond, California, that will be ignored by that same national press, but that will include photographs of the mural as well as the field trip. It will also have brought together the National Park Service, the Richmond Police Department, and the Richmond Museum of History with the National Institute for Artists and Disabilities.

That's surely not an insignificant day's work, right?

Will post the mural when I receive the photographs in a few days.

Photo: And that would be my daughter, Dorian, in red.

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