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Originally published June 19, 2013 at 7:53 PM | Page modified June 19, 2013 at 10:33 PM

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Artist reaches accord with schools on Native murals

Artist Andrew Morrison has mended his relationship with Seattle Public Schools and now will help save the murals he created at the Wilson-Pacific campus, where the district plans to build two new schools.

Seattle Times education reporter

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After months of conflict with Seattle Public Schools, artist Andrew Morrison has ended the strife over his murals at the district’s Wilson-Pacific campus by offering to work with Seattle Public Schools to save them.

“Now is the time ... to let this misunderstanding cease and start this new chapter,” Morrison said Tuesday as he stood in front of four giant portraits of Native American chiefs that he painted over the past 12 years — two of them just a few weeks ago.

“Relationships,” he said, “can mend.”

In a meeting with Banda about two weeks ago, Morrison said he wanted to let go of the past and build a bridge of friendship. He gave the school district permission to preserve or reproduce all seven murals he’s created at the site, which he previously had refused to do.

Just how the murals will be saved has yet to be determined, but Morrison has offered to help with the process.

“This is a peace gesture forever,” Morrison said. “It’s what you call love. It’s what you call brotherhood.”

The fight over the murals started last year when the school district, as part of a larger school-construction project, announced it wanted to raze the aging buildings at Wilson-Pacific and build a new elementary and middle school on the site.

Along with the four portraits — which stand 25 feet high and can be seen for blocks — Morrison has painted three other murals at the school, all of which portray Native American friends, acquaintances and mythical figures.

All are cherished by many in the Native American community, which has strong ties to Wilson-Pacific because it’s long been home to a program now known as Indian Heritage Middle College, an alternative program for high-school students.

Morrison, 32, painted the first mural when he was a volunteer at Indian Heritage and wanted to inspire the school’s students and staff, and to enrich the otherwise dreary exteriors of the aging buildings.

Many people who live near the school love the murals, too, as do hundreds of people from across the nation who filled Banda’s email box with messages urging him to save Morrison’s work.

Morrison found out about the proposed demolition when he attended a school-district meeting about a year ago — not directly from district staff. He soon started trying to persuade school officials to remodel Wilson-Pacific rather than tear the buildings down. He also wanted the district to keep Indian Heritage Middle College at the site.

But he and the others who supported that direction lost that battle, and city voters approved a school-construction levy that included the plans to build the new schools.

District officials offered to take digital photos of the murals and reproduce them on the new schools but, at that point, Morrison refused permission.

He felt disrespected and offended, in part because he’d been passed from district official to district official and, in the process, lost trust in their words.

He became, in his words, Banda’s “No. 1 adversary,” sending many emails and letters expressing his unhappiness with Banda’s handling of the murals and the Indian Heritage program.

But late last month, Morrison, who is a member of the Apache and Haida tribes, decided all the turmoil wasn’t healthy for anyone — the Native American community, Banda, other school employees, the larger Seattle community, or himself. He also decided that the loss of the murals would leave a cultural hole in the city, similar to the one created when the Seattle Sonics left town.

So a few weeks ago, he sent what he called a peace letter to Banda, who said he’d been trying to reach Morrison, too.

The two met for lunch. They talked for more than an hour and visited the murals. Morrison gave Banda several gifts, including a painting of the late Bob Eaglestaff, the beloved principal of the Indian Heritage program in its heyday.

They shook hands on an agreement to preserve the murals. Banda said this week that the district may commission Morrison to recreate the murals, or paint new ones. The district also has hired a Native American architect to study whether the murals can be saved in their original form, he said.

At their meeting, Morrison also asked for permission to create the two new murals, saying they would be a way to start the healing. Banda agreed.

Morrison also hopes that the district will keep the Indian Heritage program at the Wilson-Pacific site and keep Eaglestaff’s memory alive by naming one or both of the new schools after him.

Banda said the district is considering both proposals.

But Morrison’s main focus is the murals.

He hopes their preservation will leave people with a feeling of love — and hope.

“I changed for the sake of the kids,” he said, “and for all of us who live here.”

Linda Shaw: lshaw@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-2359. On Twitter @LShawST

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