For the past four years, Chris and Debi Taylor have been part of the Taos Municipal Schools’ Visiting Artist Program. They have worked with around six hundred students in the creation of six tile mosaic murals.
Originally published in Taos News
“We are always amazed by the enthusiasm of the students and their willingness to participate in art projects,” Chris Taylor said. “It’s clear to us why Taos is considered an art community. The kids are the best example of it.”
Creating the murals is hard work. They are all quite large—one is ten by sixteen feet. But the artists’ efforts are compensated by the appreciation that kids show for the finished product.
“Every child that walks by the dragon mural at Enos Garcia Elementary School says ‘wow,’” Chris Taylor said. “This is what art is all about. If we can create emotions in children, if we can instill in them a love for the arts, that means success for us. When they tell us, ‘Dude, good job!’ we feel we’ve accomplished something valuable.”
Chris Taylor has a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy-Art Therapy from Loyola Marymount University and an MFA in Printmaking from the University of New Mexico. He has been working with tile for many years, using his artistic background to create aesthetic designs.
His wife, Debi Taylor, who has worked alongside him in the schools, has a degree in liberal arts.
How to make a mural: the process
First, the artists ask kids to draw on paper what they would like to see in the mural. Then they take the drawings home, study them and come up with a composition that combines the children’s ideas and what the school and the administration are looking for.
Afterwards, they share it with the students and start cutting the tiles that will bring the mural to life.
But the composition is flexible.
“There are many different things happening in the students’ lives while we are making the mural,” Chris Taylor said. “Certain events are turned into stories that eventually become part of the project. These kids, when they grow up, will always know that their lives are reflected on a beautiful, long-lasting piece of art.”
The dragon and the library
Sometimes the result of the initial chat with kids has little to do with the topic that the artists had in mind. When they started the mural at Enos Garcia Elementary School, they hadn’t thought of a dragon as part of it.
“I asked the students what the library meant to them,” Chris Taylor said. “They came up with a fantasy landscape, an imagined library as it would appear on a child’s dream, with a dragon reading a book to the forest animals.”
When he showed the composition to the kids, they loved it.
“The most interesting part is that it wasn’t anybody’s individual image but a collective one that they all could identify with,” he said.
Ultimately, around one hundred twenty students worked on the mural. Most were third graders, but they got many visits from fourth graders as well.
“I love the way this mural reflects our students’ artistic ideas, which they have expressed with the help of this wonderful couple,” said the Enos Garcia principal, Dr. Gladys Herrera-Gurule. “We have received many, many compliments about it!”
The golden egg at Ranchos
Debi and Chris Taylor treasure countless stories about their work with the kids. This is one of their favorites:
“There was a boy in Ranchos de Taos Elementary School who was always watching when others were working on the mural,” said Chris. “Unfortunately, his class wasn’t part of it. One day I saw him looking at us longingly and I said to him, ‘I’m going to carve a golden egg and hide it somewhere in the mural. Once you find it, you will know it is yours. That will be your personal part of it.’ And the kid was so happy!”
The coyote at Arroyos
Alimar Espinoza-Sack was in the class that created one of the two murals at Arroyos del Norte Elementary School.
“I enjoyed putting the coyote together,” she said. “It is very detailed and surrounded by butterflies and pretty flowers…and it looked pretty real to me!”
Art and education
Chris and Debi Taylor are driven by the importance of art in children’s lives and their general education.
“Our goal is to help promote art as an integral part of a child’s education,” said Debi. “We’ve observed that when budget concerns take place, art is the first subject to be cut from the curriculum. Our worry is that the importance of art, in all of its avenues, is underrated.”
“Art education promotes interpersonal relationships, teamwork, self-discovery, self-esteem, and compassion,” her husband added. “Maybe it is also a small step in curbing the effects of bullying in the school environment.”
“We would like to thank Viviana and Christina from Vargas Tile for their emotional support and endless donations towards these murals as well as Petree’s Nursery for their invaluable donation of containers that we use to store the mosaic pieces,” said Debi. “Though Christopher has thirty years of leftover tile, tiles are the palette that kids use for the murals.”
“We would also like to thank the Wilder Green Fund for their generous funding assistance,” Chris Taylor said.
Monetary donations towards further murals can made to the Taos Municipal Schools’ Visiting Artist Program specifying they are for the mosaic tile murals project.
“This would help the continuation of these projects in our public schools,” said Debi Taylor. “We all need art in our lives.”
The murals are located at Enos Garcia, Arroyos del Norte, and Ranchos de Taos elementary schools, Taos Charter, and the School Administration Building.