Growing up in Ashtabula, Tessa LeBaron knew she was bound to go into an artistic field. “I feel like I’ve been an artist my whole life,” she says. “I was always drawing as a kid, and I sold my paintings as a teenager. My friends would request tattoo designs, and people would have me paint [portraits of] their pets.”
What she didn’t predict was that she would paint the first official mural in Cleveland that pays homage to the city’s growing Guatemalan population and its culture. LeBaron is just completing a 90-foot mural on the side of a vacant Walton Avenue building with a team of four people and Cleveland artist, and Guatemalan native, Hector Castellanos Lara.
A long way from painting pets (although she still enjoys doing it), LeBaron officially declared herself an artist age of 19.
She got her big break in 2017 at Geneva-on-the-Lake, when The Cove Niteclub on “The Strip” on Lake Road hired her to paint a mural. That project led to more murals. “The Cove wanted a detailed mural with every musician who played at the club,” LeBaron recalls. “Then the [business] next door said, ‘I want one,’ and it was like the domino effect and I did murals for business down The Strip.”
Now a working artist living in Cleveland, LeBaron says she was eying the wall of the building at 2966 W. 25th Street—just itching to fill the blank space with one of her colorful murals.
Guatemala mural detail“I’ve been driving past this wall for a while,” she says. “It’s right off the highway and traveling south, it was this bright yellow and brown wall, kind of weathered. I thought, ‘That would make a good mural.’”
So, she approached building owner Gary Grace. “I said, ‘It needs a mural,’” she recalls. And while Grace protested that he didn’t have money for a mural, LeBaron persisted and asked what he wanted. He relented and told LeBaron that his girlfriend, Olga, is from Guatemala and that he would like something that would remind her of her native country.
LeBaron started brainstorming and sketching. Two weeks later, she was at the Pivot Center for Art, Dance and Expression for an event when MetroWest CDC arts and civic education coordinator Susie Underwood introduced LeBaron to Castellanos Lara.
The two decided to collaborate on the mural, agreeing that there are no Guatemalan murals in Cleveland honoring the area’s growing Guatemalan population and showcasing the country’s beauty, traditions, and history. They came up with a plan for the 90-foot by 17-foot mural.
The pair have been painting the mural for about three weeks, along with artists Shawn Mishak and Paige Knoefel,
and it is almost complete. This Sunday, Aug. 20, the community will gather to celebrate its completion from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“The motive is to celebrate Guatemala and to create an artistic environment in the Clark Fulton neighborhood,” says LeBaron.
Guatemala mural detailCastellanos Lara was born in Guatemala City, moved to the United States when he was 22, and since 1990 has lived and worked in Cleveland. Although he has produced smaller works that celebrate his native land, he says he’s excited about creating a large-scale mural in Clark Fulton that truly celebrates Guatemala and the Guatemalans in Cleveland.
“I always wanted to do something, someday,” he says. “Gary said he would like to see something from Guatemala. It’s so colorful, beautiful, with mountains and lakes.”
Castellanos Lara continues that Guatemalans have settled in Northeast Ohio for many years, but mostly to the south of Cleveland—in cities like Kent, Canton, Dover, and New Philadelphia. In recent years, the Guatemalan population has increased in the Clark Fulton neighborhood, with at least three Guatemalan restaurants and markets opening in the area as well.
He says he is happy to create something with LeBaron with Guatemalan aspects people will recognize. He says Grace wanted the same thing.
“People from Guatemala expect more things they recognize,” he explains. “Gary said he would like to see something from Guatemala on his building. I had seen this building many times with nothing on it at all—just abandonment.”
Castellanos Lara imagined bringing the vibrant colors of Central America to the mural. “I imagined winter in [Cleveland], with a backdrop of a colorful mural with the beautiful, treasured animals from there.”
The mural mixes depictions of the Guatemalan volcanic landscape and the Mayan culture, with features like hibiscus, graceful Gerbera daisies, and calla lilies, as well as the colorful quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala and a symbol of freedom.
Guatemala mural detail“This bird is very important—it’s one of the most important icons in Guatemala,” he says. “Its feathers were used to decorate the crowns of Mayan kings, it’s on the money, and it’s on the flag.”
With the mural meant to bring a sense of balance and harmony, Castellanos Lara and LeBaron incorporated La Feria de Barriletes Gigantes, (the Festival of the Giant Kites) into the background. The handmade kites fly in the sky to honor loved ones and the departed.
Castellanos Lara says about eight native Guatemalan animals are hidden throughout the mural, including a jaguar, a spider monkey, a howler monkey, iguanas, a green frog, dragonflies, bees, and ladybugs.
Additionally, LeBaron and Castellanos Lara incorporated mountains covered with textiles with Mayan geometric designs.
“It’s really beautiful how a lot of Mayan textile designs have so much meaning and express something,” says LeBaron.
LeBaron secured a $2,000 grant from Neighborhood Connections to cover some of the costs like paint, anti-graffiti coating, brushes and rollers, and a scissor lift. Sherwin-Williams sold LeBaron the paint at a discount.
Castellanos Lara and LeBaron launched a $3,125 ioby campaign to help pay the artists team and the people who helped prep the wall for the mural. They have raised $1,350 so far and still have $1,775 to raise.
There will be a mural unveiling and celebration this Sunday, Aug. 20 at 12 p.m., 2966 W. 25th Street. The event is free and open to the public.