Walk into Laguna Elementary School’s cafeteria and the first thing you’ll see is student-made art cut out of construction paper.
But turn around in the Scottsdale school’s lunchroom and a different masterpiece awaits — a mural of mountains and valleys beneath the changing light of a desert sky, stretching across what was a 44-foot-long blank wall.
The scene is the work of Navajo artist Elmer Yazzie, who donated most of the time it took to create the mural. Work began in April and the mural was officially unveiled Tuesday.
Yazzie, an art teacher in Tucson, worked with the students and the school’s principal to tie school lessons, including responsibility and respect, into the work.
“I was thinking about these attributes for life that need to be done at all times, not just during the day ... but also to represent how these attributes mature through a person’s life,” Yazzie said.
“Those thoughts and teaching come directly out of the Navajo heritage and culture, so it was automatic, almost, for me to begin to think about the mural and the way it would move across the wall, from early morning to night,” he said.
The idea for the mural came about a year ago, when principal Katie Root and a parent stood in the cafeteria and decided something needed to be done about the big, boring wall.
The theme started to solidify when that parent, Heidi Schaefer, saw one of Yazzie’s murals on a trip to New Mexico.
Principal Katie Root said she wanted the mural to be a constant reminder to her students of the earth’s beauty and their role as stewards.
She trusted Yazzie to complete that vision — he didn’t sketch out the mural before starting to work. And judging from students’ reactions as they’ve watched Yazzie complete the piece, he got it right.
Student-painted animals and plants will be glued on top of Yazzie’s work to finish the mural.
Third-grader Jeannie Mongan said she liked working with Yazzie, learning how to mix colors to paint her prince’s plume plant. “It will be very exciting,” she said. “We’ll come back when we’re older and see our artwork.”