May 30 2018

Art tells stories. It educates and brings the past, present and future together, revealing new insights for every viewer.

The University of Washington College of Education recently celebrated the addition of a new mural on the third floor of Miller Hall that was created by Indigenous artists Roger Fernandes and Toma Villa. The project, conceived of two years ago as a way to unite art and education, reflects a vision of education that supports the thriving of Indigenous communities.

Fernandes, a master storyteller who has worked in Native education since the 1970s, said the mural tells the story of “The Aye-aye-esh Girl.” In the story, a girl whose community doesn’t believe in her ability to learn is sent away. She’s transformed by the kindness and grace of a teacher who shows her how to make a basket that can hold water, then returns to her people and teaches them to create baskets for holding water.

“The role of a teacher is critical in the life of our children,” Fernandes said. “A teacher must demonstrate ‘I believe in you.’ If you, as a student, know that a teacher believes in me, then you’re capable of amazing things.”

Fernandes said he was drawn to telling that story in the mural because it illustrates the differences between Native and Western education.

“One of the ideas I’ve always looked at is how do children really learn versus how does the Western education system expect them to learn,” Fernandes said. “Children learn through story and play, not just sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day. I hope this mural is a reminder that there are other ways of learning that existed long before our modern practices.”

Associate Professor Megan Bang said she looked forward to the ongoing impact that mural can have on the work of the College.

“Our College is so blessed to have this mural,” Bang said. “I hope people will use this as a teaching tool. The stories, knowledge and pedagogies in the mural are valuable tools for our community.”

Villa, who teaches school children Native American art as part of the Gifts from Our Ancestors program by the Confluence Project, sees the mural as an opportunity to tell the story of the place where the College sits—not just as history and paint on a wall, but as a story that is alive.

“There are still Native people here,” Villa said. “We have our culture and traditions that continue to exist. We still weave baskets and make canoes. It’s powerful to share that story here, in a place dedicated to education.”

The Indigenous Mural Project was sponsored by the Dean’s Office, Faculty Diversity Council, Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion, and Associated Students of the College of Education. Funding was provided by Bang and Elizabeth West, a former associate professor of special education.

Contact

Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu