Texas artists honor Uvalde victims with 21 murals they hope will aid healing – Houston Public Media

Some of the murals that were erected in Uvalde in memory of the children who were killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. Jake Morgan/TPR

UVALDE, Texas — Artists from across the state gathered in this small town in southwest Texas to honor the 19 students and two teachers killed in late May at Robb Elementary School. They painted giant portraits of each victim in hopes of helping the community heal.

It’s a huge effort anytime, but especially in Texas in August.

It’s early morning but already sweltering right next to the pecan tree lined square of Uvalde. The artist, whose name is Uloang, painted all night, to avoid the scorching midday sun.

“I’m half awake!” ” he said.

Hours earlier, he had put the finishing touches on a 20-by-20-foot portrait of Maranda Mathis on the side of an office building. She is one of the fourth graders killed at Robb Elementary School.

“As I was painting his face, and once I felt like I was making him smile, I could see his personality come through,” Uloang said. “And I was just like, ‘Oh, hi, Maranda! There you are.’ And I could barely hold on. I certainly shed a few tears.

The mural is based on her mother’s favorite photo of the young girl.

“His mother mentioned that she liked being in nature, collecting river rocks,” he said.

In Uloang’s portrait, Maranda stands smiling in turquoise waters. Eleven Koi fish swim around her, a number chosen because she was 11 years old. She is holding a glowing amethyst crystal instead of river rocks like in the original photo. Uloang said the idea came to him while he was drawing, and when he shared his drawing with Maranda’s mother, she had a visceral reaction.

Flowers and gifts are laid at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School.
Flowers and gifts are laid at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School. Jack Morgan/TPR

“She told me that when she saw it was amethyst crystal in the sketch, she got chills,” he said.

In fact, amethyst is Maranda’s birthstone and purple was her favorite color. Uloang also added pink water lilies, which he later discovered were his mother’s favorite flower.

“And there were other things that gave me chills,” Uloang said. “I felt like I was guided in a way, to be honest.”

The portrait project is supervised by Abel Ortiz, who teaches art at a college in Uvalde. As the creator of the project, his idea was to make the 21 murals monumental.

“We never want to forget their faces,” Ortiz said. “That’s why they had to be portrait murals and not just ordinary murals.”

Ortiz didn’t know 21 Texas muralists, so he appealed for help. Monica Maldonado answered this call. Shortly after the shooting in May, she drove the three hours from her home in Austin to pay her respects.

A mural honoring Eva Mireles, a teacher who was killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School.
A mural honoring Eva Mireles, a teacher who was killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School. Jack Morgan/TPR

“At that moment I knew God was going to use me,” Maldonado said. “I didn’t know how, but I knew that I would be involved in one way or another in Uvalde’s healing journey.

For Maldonado, this trip was about helping find buildings to host the murals and finding most of the muralists, all of whom volunteered their time.

Residents of Uvalde stop by daily to thank the artists and bring them meals.

On a recent afternoon, around the corner from Maranda’s portrait, a family stood in front of two side-by-side murals. Veronica Luevonos spoke softly about the paintings.

“It’s my daughter’s. And it’s to my nephew,” she said.

Luevanos lost her daughter, Jailah Silguero, 10, and her nephew, Jayce Luevanos, also 10. She remembered her daughter’s favorite experiences.

“She loved dancing, playing outside, being with her friends,” she said.

Jailah’s portrait shows her smiling in her cheerleading uniform, which she wore every Friday during football season. Luevanos said Jayce was a sweet little boy.

“Always makes everyone laugh, like Jailah.”

A mural in memory of student Jailah Silguero.
A mural in memory of student Jailah Silguero. Jack Morgan/TPR

Artist Ruben Esquivel chose to paint Jayce with his favorite dinosaur ninja, a paper airplane and a cup of coffee, as he did every day for his grandparents.

“And it’s like his last cup of coffee for them,” Esquivel said. “He also used to write them love letters. So the paper airplane is that kind of final letter, and it’s going to say “I love you” on the wing in its handwriting.

Veronica Luevanos says all the portraits are beautiful.

“It brings us a lot of joy,” she said. “A lot of comfort.”

She said she planned to visit Jailah and Jayce here for the rest of her life.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

To subscribe to Today in Houston

Complete the form below to subscribe to our new daily HPM Newsroom editorial newsletter.