BELEN — Brightly-colored images and the blackness of space have collided to become the new mural, “You are a Bright Star,” at the Belen Public Library.

The Space Mural Project is a collaboration of vision and imagery, and now is a reality hung on a wall in the Children’s Room at the library. The mural, created by local artist Jo’l Moore, was unveiled Saturday afternoon.

Belen Library Director Kathleen Pickering said the project was a collaboration between Central Elementary art teacher Paula Castillo, her fourth- through sixth-grade students, and Moore.

Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photos
Art educator Paula Castillo, Kathleen Pickering, the city’s community services administrator and director of the Belen Public Library; and local artist Jo’l Moore celebrate the unveiling of the “You are a Bright Star” mural in the Children’s Room of the Belen Public Library.

Last fall, NASA @ My Library selected the Belen Public Library to be part of an education initiative to increase and enhance the community’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) learning opportunities. That’s when Pickering, Castillo and eventually Moore began talking about how they could bring science and art  together at the library.

“It makes me happy whenever the Belen Public Library can bring ideas and energy for the benefit of Belen’s residents, especially the children,” Pickering said.

When students at Central Elementary School were visited by the New Mexico Space Museum in the fall, Castillo asked her students to create art pieces of their understanding of the universe in context with Belen.

“It was really natural; I think through friendship that developed through visits and conversation, Kathy and I would talk about different things that we thought would be wonderful opportunities for the kids,” Castillo said of the collaboration. “Kathy has worked tirelessly for the grants for the city of Belen, specifically for the library.”

Castillo said her students were excited to be able to participate in the community project, especially with the isolation they experienced throughout the pandemic.

“We did a couple of art shows here, and that’s what started the conversation with Kathy,” Castillo said. “Making art is a wonderful thing to help kids with anxiety. Contributing to the community with an expressive ability is hugely important. They were really excited about it and felt very proud they were contributing to the library.”

Students at Central Elementary School created artwork that examined their understanding of the universe in context with Belen after a visit from the New Mexico Space Museum.

With nearly 200 colored drawings turned in, Moore found the inspiration for the six-panel mural she created.

When Pickering initially approached Moore to paint the mural, the local artist didn’t ask too many questions. Instead, she jumped at the chance, thinking the space would be a small alcove in the library.

“Later, I learned the wall was 30-feet long; much different than I had imagined,” said Moore, who had never painted a mural before. “It was pretty overwhelming, but I figured that breaking it into panels rather than just painting on a wall would be manageable.”

With the 194 pieces of student art, Moore was able to break the drawings and the student’s vision into themes, such as planets, rocket ships, aliens and even one cat.

“I was blown away; they were so fun,” the artist said of the students’ drawings. “They really inspired me. I was really scared to do this project, and was worried about my own ability, but I thought about these kids and how they just had fun.”

Moore said she was able to detect the love and their concern for the future of the planet from the students.

“I wanted to honor that without promoting the fear behind that,” Moore said.

Channeling the students’ energy and vision, Moore got over her lack of self confidence and worked for three weeks on the mural. Each 4×4 foot panel took about five to eight hours to complete, she said.

“It was a good feeling — I felt happy that I had done an OK job, because they made me laugh,” Moore said of the final product. “I just want people to look at my art at smile.”

In the end, Moore said she’s proud of her work, and was excited for Saturday’s unveiling.

“Being in the public eye is a little bit difficult, and I wish I was doing this on Zoom,” Moore joked. “I’m a little nervous, but I hope people like it and I hope when they look up they smile.”

The wall in which the panels are on was painted by Frances Zeller, the coordinator for the Belen Harvey House Museum, and found someone to help hang the panels.

Moore, who is the manager of Books on Becker and past president of the Belen Art League, was able to craft a deal that would provide the in-kind service to the city of Belen for the rent of the gallery space for the year.

The 194 pieces of the students’ original artwork are hung in the library’s lecture hall.

Due to recent COVID surge, the Belen Public Library is temporarily closed, but appointments can be made to view the new mural and student artwork by calling 505-966-2600.

Students at Central Elementary School created artwork that examined their understanding of the universe in context with Belen after a visit from the New Mexico Space Museum. 

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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.