Imagery in Bastrop School Mural Stirs Controversy

May 15, 2008

Author: Andrea Lorenz

Source: American-Statesman

A mural meant to bring people together is causing a rift in the Bastrop community.

The painting in question, a student project completed in 2003, adorns a wall in the corridor leading to the Bastrop High School gym. It depicts the sometimes unpleasant history of the town, showing scenes of a Mexican and Comanche raid and slaves working in a cotton field, as well as unifying visions of children of different ethnicities reaching out to one another.

Bastrop school board members were surprised when almost a dozen district residents who signed up to speak at a community forum Tuesday evening wanted to talk about the mural, some calling for its removal on religious grounds and others with arguments for keeping it up.

Trustees hadn't heard of the controversy — district offices first received a complaint a couple weeks ago — but high school hallways are buzzing.

Patty Green, the art teacher who coordinated the project, said she doesn't understand why the issue is coming up now. Austin muralist Raul Valdez organized a group of Bastrop students to paint the mural using a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bastrop Association for the Arts.

"It sat up there for five years, and nobody had a problem with it," said Green, the head of the Bastrop association.

Bastrop resident Lauren Hansell, who made the original complaint, homeschools her children but visits the school on Fridays to pray with students at the flagpole.

A Christian, Hansell said she wants the mural removed because of the war and slavery scenes and depictions of Buddha and ancient gods. Hansell said girl's basketball coach Dee Deshay pointed out the mural as a potential problem.