BELEN — It’s a labor of love for several Belen artists who are creating a large mural filled with respect and reverence for the new Belen Veterans Memorial Information Center at Eagle Park.
Members of the Belen Art League have been working for months on the 16×8-foot mural, which will be erected on the east side of the visitor’s center. It’s not only to represent and honor veterans, but the mural is a way for the art league to “pay” for the gallery rent to the city.
Artist CeCe Aragon, the coordinator of the project, a number of member artists, including herself, Linda Duggar, Kelly Cross, Tom Hershberger, Patti Bucklew, Cheré Holz and Robert Murphy, all worked on the project together, from design to priming to painting and finally framing the mural. Murphy, who is creating the metal frame is also designing and making a metal eagle which will go in front of the building.
Belen Councilor Frank Ortega said the idea of the mural came about after he received the donation of a portable classroom (which was an art room) from the Belen Consolidated Schools. Because the art league rents its space on Becker Avenue from the city with in-kind services, Ortega thought it would be a good idea to ask the BAL members to create a mural for the center.
“We started talking, and got together and they were able to come up with an idea,” Ortega said.
The mural, which includes a large, waving flag, and majestic eagle carrying a yellow ribbon and dog tags, includes the words “Land of the Free. Because of the Brave.”
“The yellow ribbon signifies the souls waiting to come home, and the dog tags honor those who didn’t come home,” said Duggar, who designed the mural.
Aragon explained the art league had a call out to members to put in their design for consideration for the mural. About seven designs were judged by a committee and Duggar’s was selected by Ortega.
“It had everything we needed and wanted,” Ortega said of Duggar’s design. “The American flag for all our veterans, and those who didn’t get to come home and others who we’re still waiting to come home. It’s just the strength of the eagle that caught my eye.”
To help pay for the costs of the materials to create the mural, Ortega said the city was able to sell one of its properties on Aragon Road, and three of the councilors, including himself, and Councilors Wayne Gallegos and David Carter, dedicated 3/4 of the sale — about $8,800 each — to the information center project.
The BAL members started priming the mural in December and started the gridding process in January.
“We had to use a gridding system because it is so large,” Duggar explained. “Each part was drawn within the grid. Matching (each panel) was the hardest part, but it did and I was so thrilled. After the gridding, we laid down the paint and we’re still doing the details. I still have some more shading and the clouds.”
Duggar has created many murals in her career, saying she has done murals for an American Legion and VFW in Colorado and at different schools and buildings.
The artists involved have spent anywhere between two to four to six hours on different days working on the mural.
“We would all be working together — Kelly was on the first panel painting the stars and I would be doing the stripes, and then we’d switch and Linda was doing the eagle and Cheré was doing the dog tags and ribbon.
“It’s been a group effort, but we couldn’t have done it without the design,” Aragon said.
“And I couldn’t have done it without the help of these artists doing the grunt work,” Duggar said of her fellow artists.
The mural is painted on marine-grade plywood, which is used to make boats, should withstand the weather. Duggar said a particular finish will be applied at the end that hopefully will be graffiti-proof.
When completed, the mural will then be bolted to the metal frame, which weighs about 300 pounds, Aragon said. The frame will then be bolted onto two poles at the east side of the information center.
“Because it’s so heavy, we decided not to place it on the building itself,” Aragon said.
Cross, who owns and lives in Studio 508 in Belen, opens his home and studio to local artists to show their art. An artist himself, he says it’s been an honor to work on the mural.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Cross said. “It’s a community effort and as a member of the art league, and being retired, I have a lot of free time. Being able to work with these talented individuals is always an honor and an education in itself.”
Aragon said she got involved in the project because it was a win-win situation for everyone.
“It’s the emotional meaning of the flag, the eagle,” she said. “Veterans have done so much for us, why can’t we give something back to them?
“The Belen Art League is important to the community, not only to the artists, but to the kids who are our future generation. They need to know that our veterans need to be appreciated.”
Duggar, who was a USO hostess during the Vietnam War, said she’s always had a special place in her heart for veterans.
“We wanted to be able to do this, and I’m blessed that I have the talent to do this,” she said. “With the help of so many good people, it’s become a reality. I’m hoping it will move people; I’m hoping when they see it, they will feel something.”
The idea of the Belen Veterans Memorial was the vision of Eric Green, a veteran, and former Sen. Michael Sanchez. The former legislator was able to secure $70,000 in state appropriations in 2016 for the first phase of the memorial, which was constructed on the west side of Eagle Park.
A couple of years later, Sen. Greg Baca, Reps. Alonzo Baldonado, Kelly Fajardo and Gail Armstrong was able to appropriate another $300,000 for the second phase, which is currently under construction.
The city is also selling bricks for $40 for people throughout Valencia County to honor family members who are veterans and active-duty military members. The councilor said $20 will pay for the brick and engraving, and the other $20 will go toward the future expenses of the memorial and the information center.
Ortega said the information center, which has been recently renovated, will serve as a place where he hopes the Veterans Administration can come to help veterans. He says the building will also be available to local veterans groups and organizations as well as first responders.
Donations for the Belen Veterans Memorial and information center are being sought. Donations of trees, shrubs and rose bushes as well as financial contributions are needed for continuing construction and equipping of the memorial and information center. To donate, contact Bertha Flores at 966-2567 or Bertha.Flores@belen-nm.gov.
Ortega said he hopes to have an unveiling and ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Belen Veterans Memorial, the information center and the mural on Memorial Day, May 27, but recent rains have pushed back construction at the memorial. If it isn’t completed by Memorial Day, Ortega hopes to have a ceremony on July 4.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.