Mural honoring past and present St. James residents to be painted next month

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

Starting in early May, work on a new mural in St. James, along the east side of the Eyecare Center of St. James, will start, with former St. James resident Laura Murvartian commissioning the project for artist Yehimi Cambron.

Cambron is a well-known artist in Atlanta, and the two recently were in St. James on April 10 and 11, taking portraits of St. James residents of all ages for the mural. The mural will be Cambron's first work outside of the Atlanta area.

"[The theme of the mural] is how the community's legacy and how [it] poured into us, and now we are their legacy," said Murvartian. "There will be more prominent portraits from the people that were engaged with our lives and were there from 1976 to 1986. And then we want to feature similar individuals of today's community—the people that are engaged in the community today.

"The values of St. James—the contributions our community members make are consistent from generation to generation. That one generation improves and makes St. James better, and then the next generation takes over from there."

Part of the theme of the mural is to also honor Murvartian's parents, who moved the family from Mexico City to St. James in February of 1976, when Murvartian was eight. At that time, there were very few Hispanic families residing in St. James and Watonwan County. 

"Even though, yes, this is to honor my parents, my parents aren't unique. Everybody has an immigrant story, and you don't need to be a Latino immigrant to have an immigrant story."

The Murvartian's called St. James home until the mid-1980s.

"My main formative years were when I was in St. James," said Murvartian. "For most of us most of the time, it was an ideal place to grow up and become familiar with the U.S.

"As I grow older and look back, it felt like a Norman Rockwell-type of upbringing."

Murvartian and her three sisters grew up in the bean and corn fields working in the summers and playing hockey in the winters. The Murvartian's also recently started up a scholarship program at St. James High School, the Juan and Socorro Murvartian Memorial Scholarship, which gives $1,000 for a student of an immigrant family.

The mural will feature portraits, as well as vignettes—line drawings—of St. James citizens and of life around St. James, based on the feedback Murvartian and Cambron received two years ago when visiting St. James.

"We asked them questions about what they thought St. James valued and what they thought about living in St. James," said Murvartian. "I think this can be a way to represent a broad sense of life in St. James."

Cambron and her assistant will be traveling to St. James the first weekend in May, and the mural is expected to take 2-3 weeks to complete. A dedication ceremony is scheduled for June 20 at 1:00 p.m.

Cambron is a DACA recipient, activist, and public speaker, and has painted a variety of murals in Atlanta and has also been commissioned for Super Bowl murals, and her work has won awards in Atlanta. She has also been named one of the top-50 influential Latinos in Georgia.