Local artist pieces together international mural
From left: Cynthia and Marcus Fisher in Guatemala, soon after completing a community mural. Submitted photo.
Part of the new mural that celebrates the landmarks of the city called "Xela" by its residents in Guatemala. Photo by Marcus Fisher.
Cindy Fisher of Buckland, left, looks on as volunteers work on a mural in Guatemala. Photo by Marcus Fisher.
Cindy Fisher and others work beneath a tarp, putting mosaic tiles into position for a mural in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Photo by Marcus Fisher.
Volunteers work on the mural. Photo by Marcus Fisher.
BUCKLAND — “Big Bang Mosaics” artist Cynthia Fisher often makes murals for public spaces — in hospitals, museums, health centers, libraries, the Olver Transportation Center in Greenfield, among others. In 2010, Fisher worked with 450 West County schoolchildren and other volunteers on what she called “The Shelburne Falls Mosaic Murals Project.”
With local Cultural Council grants to pay for the materials, Fisher worked with the students to design mosaics that celebrated iconic images of their hometowns. Then she taught how to cut and put together the 10 hilltown mosaics that were eventually framed and installed on buildings throughout Shelburne Falls.
But during the last springs, Cynthia and her husband, photographer Marcus Fisher of Buckland, have traveled to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, to help in creating two community-built mosaic walls in a city of nearly a million people, rich in Mayan heritage. Fisher said about 63 percent of the population are Mayan, and that 40 dialects of Mayan are spoken there.
“The first big community project I ever did was in Shelburne Falls, and I wanted to take it to an international level,” said Fisher. “Place and pride of place was really what both projects were all about. Having a lot of people participate is really more meaningful than doing it (yourself) and getting it there.”
In 2013, Fisher decided to do a mosaic project in Central America, similar to the Shelburne Falls project, so she learned Spanish and began looking for a community organization to work with. Through the Internet, Fisher believed she had found a youth organization to work with.
“But, in this case, the organization that I found was kind of a sham organization,” she said. “I figured it out when we were down there.” She said the leader of the organization backed out of the mosaic project midway, leaving the Fishers and the new friends they had made in Guatelmala to do the rest. That included going to local tile merchants to ask for donations of broken tile to be used on that first mural, since all the work to create the mosaic was done on a volunteer basis. “Several people jumped in to bridge the gap and I have nothing but wonderful things to say about how helpful everyone was.”
“The Chicken Bus,” which was built on a 6-foot-high, 12-foot-long cement wall, shows a Quetzal bird painted on the side of a crowded bus, with market baskets and baskets of live chickens piled high on the bus’s roof top.
Fisher’s “best volunteer,” she said, was an 80-year-old woman, Enoue Renteria, who came back this spring to work on an even bigger mosaic mural, on a wall near the entrance to the University of San Carlos.
Other important friends the Fishers made on their first trip were stained-glass artist Alejandro Anleu and his wife, Eunice Lopez, who have worked to get donations and organize for the second mural project.
“They got the wall and sponsors for the project,” said Fisher. “They had T-shirts made and they got the design. I was more like the expert, coming to assist,” she said.
This April, the new mural project had more donations of materials and about 30 volunteers who assembled the mural in two weeks’ time.
“We worked 12 straight days, and day 13 was the opening celebration,” said Marcus Fisher, who took photographs of the project and assembled the mosaic volcano that depicts an actual volcano that lies beyond the wall.
All the city’s landmarks — the volcano, the street market, the Temple Minerva, which resembles a Greek ruin — are worked into the mural. It’s title, translates into English as “Our Xela, Now and Forever.” Xela (pronounced “Shay-la”) is an alternate name given to the city, and it’s what many local people call it, according to Fisher.
The 9-by-36-foot mural received a civic opening celebration, and the Fishers were given documents of recognition and appreciation from both the college and the city’s business association.
“The mosaic was made with donated tile and scrap tile that would have been garbage,” Fisher explained. Because much of it was broken floor tile, there were many shades of brown. “I brought a suitcase of a little brighter colors with me,” she said. “Out of pocket, I think I spent less than $150 for the project.”
Fisher said the local people were quick learners and were very resourceful at working with a minimum of tools. “We didn’t have a lot of tools. We were using chisels. A kid was using a bent plastic fork to scrape away excess (cement).” She said people even set up make-shift tarps, while working in the hot sun, by stringing sheets up between the top of the wall and the parked cars along the street.
“A couple of times, people would come by, that we didn’t know at all, and just give us fruit. Indigenous people would come by, look, and then give us the thumbs-up sign.”
When asked why she has done this, Fisher said, “It’s spreading my love of mosaic to the world at large. You leave something that’s lasting. You cannot even put a price tag on an experience like that. I’m hoping to return every year, for the experience of learning and sharing our cultures.
“It’s also a city of walls — with a lot of walls of plaster and cement,” said Marcus Fisher. “And it has the perfect temperature for mosaics. No freezing to ruin them.”
Fisher teaches mosaic-making, and believes American students would be interested in honing their skills while building a mural with the Guatemalans.
Fisher is currently designing a mural to be installed in the Nemours Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Del. Fisher’s work is also featured in an exhibition, called “Putting Down the Pieces: Mosaics in the Indirect Method,” at Hope & Feathers art gallery in Amherst.
More information is available at Fisher’s website, at: