San Diego County Library unveils Local Legend: Living Well Art Exhibit

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A legend herself, you can see the murals of art that Mona Mills created in libraries throughout San Diego County. Collaborating once again with the San Diego County Library, Mills, working with canvass this time, captured her talent, message and most of all, the heart and soul in the faces of San Diego legends.

On Friday, at the Rancho San Diego Branch Library, José Aponte, director of the San Diego County Library, along with Mills unveiled San Diego Legends: Living Well Art Exhibit.

A legend herself, you can see the murals of art that Mona Mills created in libraries throughout San Diego County. Collaborating once again with the San Diego County Library, Mills, working with canvass this time, captured her talent, message and most of all, the heart and soul in the faces of San Diego legends.

On Friday, at the Rancho San Diego Branch Library, José Aponte, director of the San Diego County Library, along with Mills unveiled San Diego Legends: Living Well Art Exhibit.

Aponte said this exhibit exemplifies the importance of living well.

“The legends here tonight are not celebrities, politicians or world-renowned faces,” Aponte said. “They are everyday people who have lives just like us. This is the beginning of a conversation about bridging the respect of our elders.”

Celebrating the maturity and wisdom that comes with age, legends of the community highlighted in this never-aging exhibit, are people that made and still make a difference in the world around them. Chosen for their commitment to hard work, spiritual integrity, commitment to others and leading by example.

“We have legends that were involved in desegregation, sustainable communities, public arts movement, the Indians religious rights movement, living wage for farm workers and women independence,” said Aponte. “These are the heavy lifters, they are often overlooked.”

One of the first African-American families in El Cajon, Rita Cloud faced discrimination, but met it with integrity, said Aponte, protecting herself, her children and educating those that discriminated against them both in her everyday life as a substitute teacher and serving as co-captain of The Affirmation Action Committee for Local Schools. .A strong advocate for the El Cajon Branch, she helped found Friends of the Library.

Aponte said Randy Edmonds taught Native American culture in Los Angeles by organizing intertribal powwows in the 50s when practicing ritual pagan feasts, dances or chants were illegal and punishable by prison. His work in San Diego County is as a spiritual leader, cultural teacher and is the cultural and senior advisor for the Southern California American Resource Center.

“Phoebe Burnham represents to me, fancy,” said Aponte. “Yes the idea that we can enjoy and remember that indeed life is a gift.”

An artist all her life, Burnham attended the Swain School of Design and the Columbia University of Painting and Sculpture. “Even the impossible is possible—even at 93,” she said.

Carmen Duron advocated for the people that worked 12 to 14 hours in the field under inhumane conditions. She left her life as a nun to become a public nurse for Cesar Chavez and the farm workers. Today, 83, she is out working as an advocate for others working for Adult Protective Services.

Salvador Barajas, one of the original artist of the Chicano Park Murals, showed us truth and integrity through his art, said Aponte.

Gordy Shields represents civility and civic engagement, said Aponte. Now there is the Gordy Shields Bayshore Bikeway Bridge. At 95, he still works setting national bicycle racing records and is a strong advocate for bicyclists’ rights.

Pam Smith, Health and Human Services Agency Aging & Independence Services director said 100 years ago, the life expectancy of a person was 47, but the 20th century gave the best gift, more than 20 years of life expectancy.

“Now instead of getting just a few people to old age, we are getting many of them,” she said. “You are writing the book about what to do. You’re teaching us it’s not how old we get it is what we do with those years.”

Aponte said people do not spend enough time talking about our legends, and the people that lead the community and that we live with every day..

“It is easy to speak about Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, John F. Kennedy, but there was someone there actually in the rows, the first woman, the first man and that is what we have tried to embody here is San Diego,” he said. “These are the people with integrity that said, ‘We can do this,’ and they did so against all odds.”

Mills said these paintings portray real people that have aged beautifully.

“We hope that this work will create a new approach for the future to display the struggle, the humor, the success and the maturity of people we look to most,” she said. “This art is not Photoshopped, superficial or bland but captures the culture, the candor, the hard work, resolve of extraordinary people that spent years and shows the great value and wealth of leading by example.”

San Diego Legends Art Exhibit is touring at the Lemon Grove Branch, June 1-14, reception today at 2 p.m. The La Mesa Branch from June 15 – July 15, reception on June 15 at 11 a.m., and the El Cajon Branch July 15 – August 15, reception on August 1 at 2 p.m.