Each year in June, West Marin school children participating in Gallery Route One’s Artists in the Schools Project mount their annual exhibition at Toby’s Gallery. This year, the children are joined by the members of GRO’s Latino Photography Project, and between the two groups we get a picture of our community unlike any other.
Fourteen eighth graders created self-portraits based on the work of Mexican artist Frieda Kahlo. “Students really examined themselves, literally, using a mirror,” teacher Vickisa Feinberg said. Brilliantly painted with watercolor pencils and framed with traditional ornamental tin frames, each piece is accompanied by a poem reflecting, as former principal J.P. Patterson says, “who they are, who they are becoming and what they want out of life.” Here is one poem, by Hiroki Coyle: “I am Big Happy/ I live in two worlds/ Straddling two cultures/ I’m created by plane trips to my parents/ Who live in the Evergreen State/ I arose from confusion/ Not being told about the mysterious place I was in/ Leaving the land of the Rising Sun/ I am from picking blackberries on the road behind my house/ The irresistible urge to pop the bundle of spheres overcame me/ And the berries would vanish before I was home/ I am from wind chimes, tinkling on Sunday/ After intense baseball/ I’m from the Southern island of Japan/ Pounding rice and creating udon/ I grew from my mistakes/ I live in Point Reyes Station/ My origins are from the land of the rising sun/ And my relatives are scattered across the world/ like cherry blossoms.”
On the far wall, a video is projected on a screen. One student from Bolinas questions a rancher about his water management practices during the drought, another explains how she makes her grandmother’s apple pie with the fruit from her yard. (Julia Child would approve of her fastidious instructions.) The students were trained by World Story Exchange, which partners with Artists in the Schools to teach the art of documentary. Students across the globe exchange true stories with each other, making friends and bypassing mass media.
On both sides of the gallery, seven Latino photographers deliver vivid images of their families, work lives, celebrations and rituals, including an unforgettable wedding photo of a splendid bride and groom. While they kneel at the altar for that most sacred moment, the photographer catches the pert little flower girl standing behind them in a dainty full-skirted dress, hands on hips and feet firmly planted in cowboy boots, ready to run for the door as soon as she gets the signal. I wondered if she has been to the gallery to see herself looking smart; with the drawings, portraits and written reflections of children from second grade forward, any child would be excited to join this lively world of story.
During my visit to Toby’s last Saturday, a family of five wandered slowly around, mostly in silent absorption. Did they know any of these artists? Or would that even matter? Clearly they recognized life as they know it.
The show runs through June 30. Don’t miss it.
Barbara Jay lives in Inverness Park. Her grandson Luke Horvat is looking forward to the second grade at the West Marin School.