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City Council members had asked artist and developer to consultant with local tribal leaders

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune
MARCH 18, 2022 5:05 PM PT

VISTA — A proposed mural that raised some eyebrows with Vista City Council members has been revised with input from local members of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians, who have given their blessing to the work.
“In my six years on this project, through all the highs and lows, this has been the most emotionally rewarding one,” said Lev Gershman, founder and managing partner of Tideline Partners, which commissioned the mural on its new downtown Vista building.

The revised 60-foot mural, one of the tallest in North County, is nearly complete and can be seen on the five-story, 42-unit Found Lofts apartment complex at 516 S. Santa Fe Ave., just south of the roundabout at the Guajome Street intersection. An opening celebration for the building is planned for 9 a.m. Sunday.

Gershman said one large wall to the building was intentionally left blank for a mural to depict the building’s theme of discovery. In February, he presented a version of the mural “The Explorer,” created by artist Joram Roukes of the Netherlands, to the Vista City Council.

That’s when things got awkward.

The original artwork seemed a hodgepodge of images, including a skateboard, an arm, a flying insect, a hummingbird and an alpinist, or extreme mountain climber.

But what really got the council members’ attention was a depiction of Sacagawea, the Native American who helped lead the Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1803 to 1806.

Council members wondered what connection Sacagawea had to the local area, and Gershman said her son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who also was seen in the mural as a baby, had grown up to briefly serve as magistrate at the San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside.

A second version of the mural that lost the insect, hummingbird and skateboard went over better with the council, but there still were concerns about what local tribal members would think of it. Councilmember Katie Melendez had asked Gershman if he and Roukes had consulted with anyone from the tribal community, and they had not.

Gershman said he was happy to set up a meeting, which was held last month at the Rancho Guajome Adobe with Mel Vernon, captain of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians, tribal administrator Carrie Lopez and about 20 other people.

“We spent three hours essentially listening and learning,” Gershman said. “There was so much information and so much history there. Frankly, there are scars there.”

Gershman said he and Roukes were shown various artifacts that had been passed down through the generations, and he admits that both sides felt uneasy as the meeting started.

“For me, they started from a place of a defensive position, and it makes sense,” he said. “We didn’t reach out to them and have an initial conversation. It started with kind of an intensity. They’re on this side and we’re on that side. By the end of the conversation, the energy totally changed.”

Gershman said he had discovered a book by anthropologist Constance Goddard DuBois, who had written about the Southwest and collected stories about the Indigenous people in the late 1800s. One of the stories in the book stood out to him and Roukes, and they presented it to tribal members to see if it was authentic and had been recognized locally.

By the end of their conversation, Gershman said the tribal members sensed he and Roukes were coming from a good place, and they gave their blessing for the mural.

“Joram said, ‘I’ve worked for a lot of commissions, and this has been the most moving experience I’ve had emotionally because it unearthed so many things,’” Gershman said.

The new mural no longer depicts Sacagawea and her son but still has the alpinist, whose head is a coyote. The word “Luiseño,” the name of local Indigenous people, is on an arrowhead on his chest.

In a letter to the city, Vernon wrote that the tribe “wholeheartedly support the project’s efforts to reflect the true history of this region and our peoples,” and added that Gershman and Roukes had demonstrated great enthusiasm, kindness and sincere curiosity.

“We do expect that the mural will provide opportunity for dialogue and education,” he wrote. “Ultimately, we are hopeful that our history is not disregarded by someone else’s history, and that one day, the history of our ancestors is acknowledged as ‘everyone’s legacy.’”

The mural depicts the story “How Coyote Killed Frog,” a parable about a frog that warns a coyote not to kill it or it will bleed enough water to form a lake that will drown him. The coyote said he did not believe the frog, who taunted him to try it and see. The coyote learned that the frog’s warning was true.

Gershman said a plaque will be installed outside the building to explain the mural’s story.

Roukes and his family have been staying in one of the lofts while in town, and Gershman said he would like the loft to remain as an artist-in-residence program for the city.

City Council members, Vernon and Lopez are among the guests invited to join Gershman and Roukes at a ribbon-cutting will be held at the building 9 a.m. Sunday. Food will be provided by the 508 Tavern, and the Oceanside band Seaside Ramblers are scheduled to play at 11 a.m.