My First Hug in Flagstaff: or My Interview with Mural Mice

Sky Black (left), R.E. Wall (center), and Margaret Dewar (right)
Sky Black (left), R.E. Wall (center), and Margaret Dewar (right)

It was always a treat for me when we drove to my grandmother’s house in Los Angeles. My young mind found it like a suburban quest to the far-away home on Herbert Hill, like a tiny hobbit den in the shire.

We’d follow the beaten and cracked Bifrost that is the 5 freeway, pass through a dizzying maze of freeway intersection, an Assyrian castle (which I later realized was a shopping outlet), and a cemetery, and though the bodies buried posed no significance to me, and though I knew my gesture would go unnoticed, I waved and said “hi” to my fallen trekkers for I admired such candor and vigor. At the foot of the hill, just before my grandmother’s house, beyond overgrown weeds and crooked basketball courts lay City Terrace Park and a mural by Paul Botello. The mural depicts a praying Mexican Indian goddess, surrounded by individuals harvesting and celebrating the life this goddess is creating through prayer. Large ominous figures flank the sides of the mural like giant gatekeepers, like purple pillars pointing out the direction of my grandmother’s house.

That was always my favorite thing about Los Angeles: the abundance of commissioned art – and, even more so, non-commissioned art. Upon meeting Mural Mice, I was instantly reminded of life and art in southern California: that undying insistency on creating simply because. Because it felt right. Because it was beautiful. And as I interviewed R.E. Wall and Margaret Dewar, gaining a short insight into their artful lives, I was also reminded of something my philosophy professor, Paul Privateer, had once said. He recalled his life as a child and upon watching his aunt leave a rose in an empty beer bottle in a tattered, graffiti-ridden river canal, he asked her why the thought had even crossed her mind. To which she responded, “To make life beautiful.” It’s a sentiment so simple it feels sarcastic yet the Mice reciprocated the thought with a blissful ease that seemed to emanate so naturally.

A few days after interviewing the Mice and very rudely shoving my camera in their face, I returned to The Orpheum Theater with a USB stick containing (some) of the photographs I took and a thank-you letter. Wall was on the phone when I arrived but he recognized me – most definitely as that random dude who interviewed him that one time. He silently mouthed the words “what’s” and “up” to me. To which I mouthed the word “photos” to him. A great big smile grew on his dirty face and, like a foreign gravitational pull, he sucked me into his chest and patted my back. He mouthed the words “thank” and “you” before turning around and proceeding with his phone call. I stood for a bit and stirred in the memory of what had just amusingly transpired. I hadn’t been in Flagstaff that long and if my memory served me correctly, that was my first hug in Flagstaff.


  1. Great article about the Mural Mice at Sound of Flight. Its been three years since we finished the mural and I just stumbled across this article. Its amazing how the quiet eye catches the detail of our work in motion. Nice job. Hope to read more of your writings in the future. Cheers and keep on Squeaking up for Public Art!

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