Anne Smith, an artist who traveled with us on our recent Guatemala trip, has written an article about her experience. Read about it at her website, by clicking on the image below.:
When Kevin Macpherson – Founder of Art Ambassador for a Colorful World, met Leslie Baer Dinkel – CEO of Xela AID, the seed for an extraordinary collaboration was formed. While Kevin’s non-profit organization seeks to enable children to blossom through art in remote locations around the globe, Leslie and Xela AID have been empowering the Mayan people of the Guatemalan Highlands for twenty-six years through education, job opportunities, & health care.
The first week of November, 2018, they joined forces and embarked on their inaugural group trip, taking with them twenty-five artists, and art enthusiasts, to Guatemala for ten remarkable days of art and service. When the artists weren’t painting a 17th century church or photographing Mayan women in a colorful village market - they were delivering chickens with their coops to needy families, or rescuing a mother and her children from domestic abuse - and setting them up in a “new” house, new school, and new job!
With participants from Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington, it made for an eclectic ensemble of artists from around the country. However, with their common love of art, and their desire to make a difference in the world, these creative people made a powerful impact upon nearly everyone they met in Guatemala – surprising even themselves. In addition to their art and service, the friendships that were formed were the type that last a lifetime.
In the words of many of the artists the trip was “life-changing, humbling, and extraordinary.” In addition to the humanitarian element of the trip, the beauty of the World UNESCO Heritage Site of Antigua was breathtaking, as was Lake Atitlan in Jaibalito. Both spectacular locations, as well as Quetzaltenango (“Xela”) and the nearby quaint village of San Martin where the Xela AID Center is located, offered the artists endless opportunities to compose exquisite paintings.
Additionally, in San Martin, Xela AID has undertaken construction of a three-story building for the purpose of Montessori and public preschool classrooms, plus space for tutoring, literacy, leadership training, and an expanded computer laboratory. There is also rooftop space that will feature an open-air studio which will welcome artists in partnership with Art Ambassador for a Colorful World; the non-profit organization has made a significant pledge.
According to Kevin Macpherson and Leslie Baer Dinkel the trip was a wonderful success; the art ambassadors definitely experienced the concept that “art can change the world.” Consequently, another joint trip to Guatemala has already been scheduled for November 2019. If you are interested, or would like to learn more, check out the links below.
Art Ambassador Website blog:
The first Art Ambassador artist’s trip to Guatemala was a phenomenal success.
Twenty-six artists, photographers, and volunteers descended on Guatemala in November of this year. They painted, conducted classes with children and worked on building projects such as a water purification project, and they even built chicken coops (complete with chickens) for three deserving families in the area.
All initially gathered in the picturesque city of Antigua for a few days of creativity.
Then they moved on to Quetzaltenango, which was the home base for their work in the remote village of San Martin Chiquito where Xela AID has built their clinic.
From there, all finally moved on for a restful finale at Lake Atitlan amid three towering volcanoes before heading home.
Ten days of excitement, camaraderie, creativity and laughter.
Kevin was joined by Ken Cadwallader and 14 artists from across China, who volunteered their time to paint murals for the children of Long Lin elementary school in XiShuang BanNa, Yunnan.
At the bottom of the page is a link to the thank you note (with pictures) he sent to volunteers.
Here are some photos from the event. At the top is a time-lapse video of one of the murals in progress:
Formalizing a Successful Partnership
Art Ambassador will build on our partnership with Xela Aid and expand our presence in Guatemala to open the Art Ambassador for a Colorful World Plein Air Studio, Guatemala. Click on the Image below for more information!
Joel Heger, a Director at Art Ambassador for a Colorful World, taught art classes to children at The Perkins Summer Camp, a program of The John Perkins Center in Jackson, Mississippi.
“It's always amazing”, recalled Joel after his visit, “to see how children respond when given the opportunity to express themselves through art; depicting their families, friends and communities. I don’t know why I’m so surprised, because whenever we work with a group of youngsters and give them the tools and a little guidance and encouragement, they seem to blossom – with huge smiles across their faces”.
The Center helps students become leaders in the areas of justice, community development, and understanding. The vision of the Center is to see generations of global urban leaders, organizations, and institutions engaging the culture and changing the world by contributing to community health and wholeness.
Art Ambassador for a Colorful World has similar goals, as reflected in our mission statement:
We believe art has the power to change the world. It inspires individuals and brings together entire communities. Art Ambassador helps children and adults express their vision of the world through art. When children draw and paint, a creative spark is ignited. They are able to develop life skills like cooperation, confidence and leadership. Art provides a colorful retreat from everyday life bringing joy and laughter to kids and the communities that delight in them.
The children with whom Joel worked varied in age from 5 to 12 years of age. Joel’s objective was to introduce the children to the idea that art is fun and rewarding in many ways. Joel, too, had fun teaching them the fundamentals of art. The kids were given full rein and, while listening to music, painted portraits of each other, their favorite animals, or whatever they wanted, on paper plates. Joel presented the children with awards in the form of paints, brushes, etc., to grow on. In addition, the kids received a personalized bag of art materials to keep and use whenever they’re inspired.
These disadvantaged youngsters had a chance to have fun and learn. That also goes for Joel as he plans on returning next year.
Paint with Kevin Macpherson
Serve and Learn Spanish in Antigua Guatemala
Trip Dates June 16-30, 2017
Deadline to Register: December 31, 2016
Benefiting Art Ambassador for a Colorful World
A Link is Provided Below to Submit your $500 Deposit! Read on!
"Some of you know that I've traveled on several occasions with Xela AID, which provides critically needed services to the Mayan people of Guatemala. I'm writing to invite you to join me next summer to paint and to serve in one of the most colorful and interesting cultural regions of the world! This trip will take us to Antigua, the breathtaking colonial capital city of old Guatemala, where we can choose to paint and sight-see only or you can also take advantage of one-on-one Spanish lessons (included) at a beautiful villa." – Kevin
Kevin's fortunately found his gift early in life. When he was seven years old he knew he would be an artist. Art has opened many doors for a fulfilling life. He loves teaching, by giving back and sharing art to both adults and now especially to underprivileged children around the world. Perhaps Kevin will spark a child's passion that will light their way for life. Volunteering with Xela Aid was the inspiration for Kevin founding Art Ambassador for a Colorful World, both non-profit organizations.
Join Kevin on a joint Xela AID and Art Ambassador trip filled with life changing moments. We will have many group activity options and time to paint on your free days. Antigua, Guatemala is among the best-conserved colonial cities in the world. It is a busy town full of colonial architecture and beautiful surroundings. The center of Antigua is under UNESCO World Heritage protection. The designation was based on the integrity of its 16th-century layout and the physical integrity of the buildings in the historic center. You may get the feeling time might have stopped some 300 years ago. Colonial history is always present in Antigua Guatemala. It combines with an array of cultural activities. These include art galleries and exhibits, performing arts, popular arts, films, forums, restaurants, cafes, and cultural tourism in general. Be ready to take hundreds of photos of this inspiring country and be prepared to experience Guatemala in a very unique way.
The week after visiting Antigua the group will travel to a small village, San Martin where Xela aid has worked with for over twenty-five years. You have the option to paint and or volunteer with Xela aid projects. You will be welcomed like family. The accommodations are clean, safe and comfortable. You will have all of your transportation included. It will be without instruction but Kevin will surely offer some evening group critiques for free.
"The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away."
Please note that the deadline is swiftly approaching. All you need to do is put down a $500 deposit to reserve your spot before the deadline of December 31, 2016. You can follow up here:
Flyer with Detailed Information: https://www.xelaaid.org/userfiles/files/20160711%20Stue%20Trip%20Flyer.pdf
Base Cost is $1862 per person double occupancy no matter if spouse or not, plus $100 for critique sessions with Kevin during the trip ($1962 total). Please note $650 extra for a single. This is not a workshop.
Art Ambassador for a Colorful World participants pay $1962, but Art Ambassador for a Colorful World will receive $200 for every Art Ambassador who signs up which we will use for art scholarships for children!
This is a Volunteer Service Trip, and Your Total Contribution is Fully Tax Deductible!
Please email if you need additional information, and I look forward to traveling with you to this incredible destination for artists, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Macpherson recently returned from China, where he was interviewed for Chinese television. Click to see the video.
Chinese Television did a feature interview with Kevin Macpherson on his recent trip to China. Kevin talks about traveling to over 35 different countries worldwide in search of inspiration. Kevin, Founder and CEO of Art Ambassador for a Colorful World, spreads joy and the art spirit to underprivileged children.
This trip was a collection of firsts for me.
As I started out on my first trip to Guatemala to work with Kevin Macpherson’s Art Ambassador roadshow along with our partner group Xela Aid - Partnership for Self-Reliance, there was no way I could imagine how this weeklong adventure would evolve, or what it would mean to me.
I arrived in Guatemala a few days before Kevin and Wanda Macpherson, and the Xela Aid contingency. I decided to arrive early to become acclimated to the cultures, language, personalities, and people of Guatemala. Our initial rendezvous point was the century old city of La Antigua, which I was told was the original capital of Guatemala.
Antigua is a city somewhat lost in time. Sidewalks are narrow and the streets are paved in large cobblestones. These streets are so rough; it is impossible for anyone to speed around in their cars and trucks. Antigua is filled with ancient sites, and due to the many earthquakes over the years, the ruins of old churches remain standing nearly on every corner.
My challenges began once the Xela Aid group and the other Art Ambassador representatives arrived. I quickly overcame the challenge of learning our group’s individual names, and on Sunday we began our real reason for being there. We boarded our bus and headed up to Quetzaltenango, which served as our home base. Interestingly, the name used by the locals for Quetzaltenango is Xela!
Every morning we gathered for breakfast and were briefed on the day’s activities and schedules. We then left our hotel to travel to a small village of San Martin Chiquito, where Xela Aid has been working for nearly 25 years. A well-staffed group of people, including doctors, a psychologist, a computer technology expert, and specialists in the areas of construction, spousal abuse, child welfare, and education oversees the activities there. In addition, it is the home of some of the country’s greatest weavers.
As our bus approached the central square, we were serenaded by a seemingly endless blast of firecrackers. As the door of the bus opened, young children and their mothers rushed to hug us with their arms wrapped around our legs.. I had the distinct impression they did not intend to let go. Clearly, they were very happy to see us.
This however was only the beginning! On day one, I conducted an art class with a great group of fifth graders. Each of the students was given a kraft tote bag along with an assortment of colored crayons. In addition, they had several large sets of colored markers to choose from. My assignment for them was to illustrate their life with the theme, “I Love My Life”. The guidance I gave them was to close their eyes and think about their lives in the following way:
I love who I am! • I love my family! • I love my friends! • I love where I live! • I love my history and my culture! • I love the things around me like my home, my school, the trees, the animals, and the flowers.
These faces tell the story!
This initial project was a smashing success, especially when I told them they could keep the totes and colored crayons. Although I had more kraft sacks than I personally needed, another member of our group also conducted two classes with the same materials and had a similar resounding success.
On day two, I returned to the Las Nubes Elementary School to work with a group of third graders. My assignment for this group was to imagine the importance of the sun, which as we know, is the most important thing there is to support life on Earth.
Today we will draw our own version of the sun.We have colored markers and paper plates to draw on. When we finish, we will enjoy your impressions together.
The children had no trouble understanding my assignment and quickly began to create their sun impressions. There was quite a bit of chatter among the children, and they were all excited to dive in.
Beyond what we might call the “obvious” solution, many of these children expressed deep meaning in their renditions of the sun. Take Jose as an example. Jose said “The sun is a clown because clowns make magical things happen.”
We then returned to the Xela Aid Clinic and began painting a single panel mural on the wall of the newly completed and magical third-floor. Our mural was a totally collaborative event. Five of us painted the wall simultaneously. It looked much like a circus act. The subject was simply a lady, in traditional dress, peering out a window to a typical hillside farming area. In the end, it was a delightful addition to this gathering place.
With our work now completed at the clinic, it was time for a little R&R for us worker-bees. On Friday evening, we loaded onto our bus and drove out to the beautiful, Lake Atitlán. For many tourists and natives alike, this lake is possibly the single greatest destination in Guatemala. Lake Atitlán brings poetic outbursts from even the most seasoned travelers. Of volcanic origin, the lake is ringed by villages such as Santiago Atitlán, San Marcos, San Pedro, and Panajachel. There we had a fine time exploring the native surroundings, shopping and eating.
In summary, this excursion was everything from breath-taking to humbling. The happiness, love, and appreciation shown to us by all of the children and their parents, is difficult to describe. Words alone cannot explain the pure joy and satisfaction that each of us feels having been part of this Art Ambassadors adventure.
By Jack Vogler
President, Art Ambassador For A Colorful World
Anticipating the arrival of spring in his neck of the woods, our President, Jack Vogler, recently participated in a very unique art event with a group of day care children and older kids too.
The winter of 2014 – 2015 has been a real struggle for everyone in the Northeast, especially for the children attending Ms. Trudi’s Day Care. Like so many others, they have become anxious about being cooped up in their homes and at the day care. So Trudi came up with the bright idea to bring a little fun into the children’s day by using the mountains of snow as a canvas.
Yes, that’s right, a snow canvas!
Armed with 23 cans of spray paint, the kids attacked . . . painting “Spring” on the snow. As it turned out, the party became a big neighborhood event too. The children, and their parents had a great time getting rid of the winter blahs.
These pictures tell quite a story. Look at the excitement on their little faces as they use art, to brighten their young lives.
Art Ambassador For A Colorful World – Children learning, smiling, and having fun!
Click on the images below to read parts 1 and 2 of an interview with Kevin and Wanda Macpherson at Peninsula Pulse.
Here's a link to part 2 of the interview:
Here's a wonderful audio dialogue with Kevin from the Savvy Painter podcast. If you are interested in painting or travel, you will love this interview. To listen, click on the picture below.
In this episode, Interviewer Antrese Wood and Kevin talk about:
- How Kevin made the decision to chuck everything, hit the road and paint.
- How he chooses to take risks and live without regret.
- The surprising origin of Kevin’s extremely limited palette.
- Travels in China and the lengths Kevin goes to make the children smile.
Opening Reception March 21st , 2015, 2:00 to 5:00 PM
Impressions of China, an Art Show Reception and Fundraiser for Art Ambassador for a Colorful World, will take place at the Raymond Restaurant in Pasadena, California on Saturday, March 21, 2015 from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM. World-renowned artists, Kevin Macpherson and Jove Wang, accompanied by six accomplished women artists, traveled to Jilin, China and Outer Mongolia in late 2014, to document a portion of China less traveled by Westerners. Painting from dawn to dusk for almost three weeks, the artists put their impressions of China on canvas. Back home in the U.S. they completed their paintings and created new works based on the thousands of photos they took.
These colorful and insightful paintings, including those by Peggy Chang, Wendy Cordin, Laurie Hendricks, Christina Kuo, Julie Rogers, and Janine Salzman will be on display at the Raymond Restaurant during the event. After the opening, the show will move to the Laurie Hendricks Gallery, down the street in South Pasadena, where the works will be on display for a month.
Art Ambassador for a Colorful World, led by Kevin Macpherson, is based on the idea that art has the power to change the world. The non-profit helps children and adults in countries like China and Guatemala express their vision of the world through art. Kevin and the other art ambassadors provide individualized art instruction and lectures in conjunction with national governments, local museums and institutions of higher learning to build local capacity of art instruction and appreciation. A percentage of each painting sale will go towards funding this exciting program.
Jove Wang was born in China, and at age 7 he apprenticed with Master Painter Gang Gu, before studying at the Jilin School of Art and graduating from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts with honors. In 1990 he immigrated to the United States where he soon met with success, and was commissioned to paint portraits of Cardinal Roger Mahony, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich. Mr. Wang has won numerous awards including Best of Show in the California Art Club’s 88th Gold Medal Show and in the 8th National Oil Painters of America Show. His work has been exhibited in the Pasadena Museum of California Art, the Pasadena Historical Museum, the Laguna Beach Art Museum, the Carnegie Art Museum, the Bowers Museum, as well as the Museum of Jilin, China. Jove Wang is a Signature Member of the California Art Club.
Kevin Macpherson is recognized as one of America's most accomplished Impressionistic Plein Air painters. He is a member of many top organizations including: Master Oil Painters of America, Master
American Impressionists Society, Signature Member of the California Art Club, member of the Salmagundi Club and founding member and first president of the Plein Air Painters of America. He has been recognized for his accomplishments and influence by numerous organizations. His work has been featured in more than 75 publications, books, television series and videos and he has written three popular books on landscape painting, that are published in the U.S. and China. Kevin visits and paints in China several times a year, and also founded the Art Ambassador for a Colorful World foundation.
The Raymond Restaurant is located at 250 South Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, and features an innovative, contemporary menu in a casual-fine dining setting. Executive Chef Tim Guiltinan creates classic American cuisine with global influences like Gambas y Papas Bravas, wild shrimp paired with fried potatoes, spicy tomato sauce and garlic aioli. Utilizing a mix of modern and classic cooking techniques, Guiltinan combines familiar ingredients with an exotic flair to produce a truly singular style. Hidden in the back, the world-renowned cocktail bar, 1886, shakes craft cocktails with hand-cut ice, freshly-squeezed juices, and a hand-selected arsenal of quality spirits. The wine list features a varied selection of domestic and international wines from both premier and boutique wineries. Join them for brunch, lunch, dinner, cocktails, or reserve space for a special occasion.
Impressions of China will move to the Laurie Hendricks Gallery and be on display from March 26th until April 18th. The Gallery is located at 1504 Mission Street in South Pasadena, California and is open Thursday through Saturday from 11:00 AM until 5:00 PM and also by appointment. The gallery shows Plein Air paintings and The Burgess Collection which features paintings, watercolors and limited edition prints from the 18th Century to the present.
Please call (626) 664-1427 for more information, or larger photo files.
August, 2014 By Ryan Lanese and Kevin Macpherson
On August 2nd along with Xela Aid, members of Art Ambassador for a Colorful World arrived in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. It is fitting that we aimed to connect such a place with art. The environment is a living canvas, from the lush greens rolling over the mountains, the endless fields of maize, to the beautiful hand made garments worn by the Guatemala women. After the scenic drive, we settled in to the Hotel Modelo, a quaint and beautiful spot. At breakfast the next morning, we are told by the owner that he is the fourth generation of his family to run the hotel. A legacy lasting since 1916! At that moment, any pangs of homesickness were immediately assuaged.
A 45-minute bus ride separated us from San Martin, the village where our friends at Xela Aid have been doing incredible work for the last couple of decades. They have turned previous despair in to a treasure trove of opportunity and hope for the future. We arrive at the clinic, the hub of activity. Upon exit we are swarmed by women and children. They give hugs and joyous greetings. There is something that can almost be described as magical about the affection we received by people we had never met in our lives. Though I had come with the intention of making an impact, it quickly became clear that the impact was to be made on me.
We were immediately set on the work to be done. The doctors had hundreds of patients from all around that had come to see them. The patients were plagued with ailments such as bronchitis, amoebic dysentery, and a plethora of other issues stemming from the lack of access to clean water. An unfinished house for Julia and children awaited running water, furniture, and a fresh coat of paint. Finally, many eager children were excited for the art activities planned by Kevin and the other members of the group.
The first three days went by quickly. The house was coming along, the doctors saw patients as quickly as they could and did as much as their supplies allowed them. The children delighted with the new friends and fun of the art classes. A mob of young children followed Kevin around. The childlike aura of curiosity that surrounded him as an artist immediately made him a friend and mentor. The same respect was given to the many Xela Aid workers, who consist of teachers, doctors, and translators. In the short time they have been in San Martin, they have led many children to a better, educated life. The children aspire to attend the university and become leaders of the next generation. Some have even come back to work for the same cause that changed their life.
As this was written, we were only three days into our trip, and we felt we'd gained a lifetime of experience. We are all certainly humbled, and plan to let this fabulous experience drive us as we finish up our work in San Martin.
For the past four years I have been traveling alone extensively in China and have been so inspired I have been studying Mandarin. It has been an adventure and challenge. I paint on my travels but not all paintings are successful. I view my time here in China as a place of exploration and discovery. In addition to learning the language, making friends and sharing the art spirit, I have been gathering many photographs, sketches, paintings and ideas that will be inspirational for me back in the USA.
This spring I have had the joy of volunteering to teach painting and drawing for underprivileged children of migrant workers. My Mandarin is poor at best but the universal language of art and smiles go a long way. I hope I have added color to the lives of these wonderful children. I was especially impressed with so many who had natural talent, and I hope I have inspired some to pursue art in their future.
My wife, Wanda and I had just finished touring Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam when we bid our farewells in Hong Kong as she boarded for Los Angeles. I flew on to Shanghai to start my next adventure. It was emotionally difficult to see Wanda walk towards the international connection and fade out of my view. On past trips, I had had fifteen hours on the plane to China by myself to deal with my separation anxiety.
The Jiuqian Center provides after-school activities for underprivileged kids of migrant workers. The children come from all over China. They can enroll in Shanghai schools only through middle school, then they must return to their home provinces to continue high school.
On this first visit to the Jiuqian center, I was greeted by two fifteen-year-old girls. They both spoke English better than I spoke Chinese. I told them I would be teaching painting over the next three weeks; Yang Xiao Min quickly responded she did not like painting, the other girl, Ban Fu Jun said she did. Ban Fu Jun is from Anhui province and Yang is from Sichuan. Ban Fu Jun plays the Pipu, a traditional Chinese string instrument, which looks like a cross between violin and guitar, but is played upright on her lap and leans across her shoulder. She took a few minutes to wrap her right hand fingers with white tape before obliging me with a demonstration. She played quite well and told me she has been studying music after school here for three years. Ban was my "fanyi," my translator. I tried my best, but needed to ask her to clarify many words in English, as I couldn't yet understand much. I definitely needed to wear my down jacket while working here, as it was very cold throughout the makeshift school.
Although I had never met Mr. Zhang before, we immediately felt like we were old friends. Mr. Zhang, a tall, slender man barely forty years old, is director of the Jiuqian volunteer center. The first evening at the school he invited me to partake in the Yuan Xiao Jie, the Chinese Lantern Festival, a celebration of the last day of the lunar new year. We were all served the yuan tang, a sweet rice soup with white eyeballs filled with meat, sesame or lucky peanut to insure your wishes are fulfilled. We proceeded to draw and write on the orange lantern skins. I wrote mine in Chinese, "This year I want to speak Chinese", and drew a cartoon of myself. I helped Xiao draw a snake to represent this year's animal, she was hesitant as she dislikes art but I guided her arm for a sweeping serpentine gesture, which also drew a big smile on her face. Before I left, she asked if I will be coming back, and she said she would give art another chance. We all went outside to light the lanterns for a glowing send off. All of Shanghai was blasting fireworks, which offered spectacular light displays and thundering echoes between the buildings. Many people were on the Bund watching the sparkling reflections on the Huang Pu River.
I spent most the next day buying art supplies along Fuzhou Lu in the center of Shanghai. This street is all about art, book stores and calligraphy supplies. I was looking for supplies for the children's art projects. I never have taught children before, so I winged it and came up with ideas off-the-cuff. I found a shop that had a pile of ping-pong paddles. I thought painting the bare wooden paddles with a handle was a great idea. So I purchased thirty for the kids, along with umbrellas for the kids to decorate. I filled bags with paint and brushes, drawing paper, stickers, canvas and a cheap easel. In the Shanghai bookstore, I also bought two of my Fill your Oil Paintings with Light and Color books, in the Chinese translated version, in the Shanghai bookstore to share with the kids.
I met Mr. Zhang for dinner in a little shop around the corner from my hotel. This was our first time to plan the program for his students. He graduated from Shanghai University with a degree in philosophy, teaches at the university daily, and works with the kids every day, including weekends, from 2:30 to 8:00pm. The parents of the children work long days, mostly in menial jobs, and the kids have no after school options, so the Jiuqian Volunteer Center is their home away from home.
The Jiuqian Center has introduced music as the focus and has gained quite a reputation for its accomplishments. I had happened to see a special about their program on CCTV from my home in Taos, New Mexico. I was taken by Mr. Zhang's dedication to improving the lives of these children. I wrote him an email offering my service to add art to his program. He quickly and enthusiastically accepted and said, "come over this weekend!" Well, as I was half way around the world, we had to plan a bit before I could arrive.
Over the next few weeks we painted many fun and creative projects, visited museums together and even had a day sketching in the open air along the most famous strip in Shanghai, the historic and picturesque, Bund.
On my 57th birthday I flew to Xishuangbanna, Yunnan in the southwest of China. It was just turning dark as I left for Mengla. The milky atmosphere smelled of smoke from the burning farm fields I saw as we landed. It was warm– nearly ninety degrees. The roadways are lined with many plumeria trees, banana trees and coconut palms.
The three-hour drive to Mengla from Jing Hong was very dark. The winding road pierced the mountain with long black tunnels without interior lighting. The taxi driver pulled off the side of the road about 10:00 pm in the pitch dark, and called someone. He spoke very fast so I could not understand what he was saying. If I had not reserved this driver with Mr. Zhang, I would have been frightened. Mr. Zhang appeared with his iPhone to use as a flashlight, to join me for the last drive to a hotel. My hotel is cheap. We sat for awhile to plan my classes as little lizards scurried across the ceiling and giant cockroaches ran onto the table and jumped across the hole in the floor, which served as the toilet. I smashed a big one; it was very juicy.
From Mengla I managed to buy the bus ticket to the small Dai village of Longlin. The driver dropped me off at highway marker 107. I crossed a narrow river wall, past a small temple for the little minority village, a complex of old wooden houses. The bottom floor of each house was reserved for animals, ducks, chickens and pigs. The dogs are always on guard, or they may become dinner. Corn was drying on the rafters and men shave the bamboo to make strips to weave chairs and baskets. As I walked to the village school an old woman invited me in for sweet rice cakes cooked on the wood-fueled fire. The cakes were dipped into fresh-harvested honey--delicious.
The Longlin Grade School housed 200 of their three hundred students. There are 20 regular teachers and eight volunteers from Shanghai. I was the only American; in fact I was the only American to ever visit the school.
Mr. Zhang and the kids surrounded me quickly and were instantly welcoming. The students, 7 to 11 years old, came from afar and most lived at school away from their family. The Director of Longlin school was honored I came to paint and share the art spirit.
Before we filled a large cotton sheet with drawings of favorite animals the children sang happy birthday to me. They loved mixing paint. After class we dined outside. The teachers prepared local Dai dishes. We partied, ate too much, drank too much bai jiu and bee, which promoted singing and dancing. At the end of the evening we all walked into the blackness of the rubber tree forest to look for the fireflies, ying huo chong.
The kids were so sweet. They always greeted me, Kevin Lao Shi, Teacher Kevin. Both boys and girls liked to hold my hand, both boys and girls. It felt good to fill a niche and feel the love of little children.
Each day was filled with new experiences, inspirational locations, unexpected wonders and exceptional people. At an early age I embraced the art spirit. Since then my life has been blessed because of art. I have taught thousands of adult students, and now I would like to share the gift with young, underprivileged children as long as I can physically and financially continue my mission, Art Ambassador for a Colorful World.
To learn more about my mission , go to our website: www.artambassador.org or email email@example.com
Letter from Mr/ Zhang:
"Thank you for bringing a colorful world for the kids! I believe these days with you will never be forgotten in their mind. These beautiful memories will also company with me. And thank you for painting my portraiture, it's the best gift I had in my birthday!"
Best wishes, 张轶超（Zhang YiChao, of Jiugian Center）
Here's a nice art nice about Mr. Zhang and the Jiugian Center, where Kevin teaches:
Wanda and I just returned from a wonderful adventure in Guatemala. We spent 10 days working with 22 other volunteers for Xela Aid. An organization dedicated to assisting the small village (Mam pueblo) of San Martin to build a sustainable lifestyle. This was our first visit to Guatemala and a first to work with an aid group. Our hotel was in Quetzaltenango (Xela) a larger city about 40 minutes away from San Martin. Our group consisted of young and old from all parts of the United States, Hawaii and Canada including a nurse, 5 college students, a doctor, biologist, anthropologist, geologist, actors and other specialists. Some in the group like us were on their first mission with Xela Aid and others on their twentieth annual excursion. People pitched in with all sorts of skills helping with construction, electrical, medicine, water purification and reading.
Last year there was a ground breaking for a small tienda (store) built for the women weavers Co-op in the village. This trip the store was wired with electricity, painted and furnished with display cabinets.
The hand woven products were priced, arranged and the store was open for business on the last day of our visit. This particular project was fully funded by one family on our trip. They saw the potential for these hard working talented ladies to earn some income selling their art. She will also create a web site in conjunction with the store to sell the weavings online. If they can sell art in a remote village such as this we all have a chance.
Xela Aid also supported another group of ladies making sausages (chorizo) for sale to the locals. We had a taste of their product and they were delicious. Xela aid purchased a large freezer for the sausage ladies. Now they can make, safely store and sell more products.
I wondered what I could offer as I have no skills and my IQ really drops when I put a tool in my hand but Wanda and I went to the grade school and performed a couple days of art for about 50 students. Like a three ring circus we juggled between two fifth and six grade classes. One of our young college student volunteers was fluent in Spanish so she helped us immensely translating my art lessons. First we had children draw with markers their friend’s face on a balloon. We taught the proper placement of the eyes, nose, mouth and ears on a head. Most of these children never had an opportunity for art in the classroom. It was so worth the experience just to see the joy on their faces. They were all enthused and had fun but also all took it serious. We brought pencils, paintbrushes, paint, and paper plates. After learning the proportions of the face we had them paint their classmates portrait on the paper plates.
While all the volunteers were painting the store, distributing purified water systems to households and treating all the people needing medical attention, I painted portraits of a few the women dressed in their everyday traditional hand woven clothing (Guipils). Each village has a unique traditional pattern to their weavings. The women made for great models with the ability to sit quite still. I did my best to make them feel at ease, get them to smile, but many were very conscious of their poor teeth and did not want to reveal their golden grin. Obviously their harsh existence shows on their faces and many look older beyond their years.
During the week I would photograph them when they were unaware. I plan to paint a portrait of each of the 13 weavers of the San Martin Tienda Co Op. I didn’t have enough time to paint them all from life, as would be my preference so I photographed them. My goal is to make greeting cards for them to sell and have copies of each portrait hang in their Tienda alongside their beautiful weavings.
Most Guatemalans speak Spanish, but each region also speaks their distinct native Maya language. This area their native tongue is “Mam.” There are 27 different minorities most of these people are decedents from the ancient Mayan culture.
The village of San Martin sits at 8000-foot elevation with lush green mountains, many rows of cornfields and other various vegetables cling to the steep hillsides. Milky fog would drift in almost every afternoon. We were here in Guatemala during the rainy season. We saw many colorfully dressed women carrying heavy loads on their heads and a baby strapped on their back.
Early one morning we loaded up two school buses with 160 villagers for a field trip to the Pacific coast. Many have never seen or stepped into the ocean and most don’t know how to swim. The ladies were still heavily dressed in their cool weather garb. No one had bathing suits but all eagerly squeezed on the bus for the three and a half hour journey. The road snaked from the cool high country all the way down to the hot tropical coastline. The bus driver managed to hit every pothole rattling us all as we sat 4 to a seat with children on top of children.
Large grins soon filled all the faces. They were overwhelmed with joy to see and smell the ocean air and dip into the warm water for the first time. We all held hands to form a safe chain on the water’s edge. We cautiously waded in knee deep together. The waves were forceful and the undertow strong. Their traditional long skirts must have weighed a ton soaked in salt water but it did not dampen their fun. We all went back to San Martin hot, salty, wet and tired.
We questioned if Wanda and I could contribute to an aid trip like this but the portrait painting was really well received. Many watched the magical process and all felt a sense of dignity, as I captured their likeness. This was another great adventure brought to me by painting.
Guatemala has some safety issues for travelers but wow, what a visual feast. The colorful costumes are not for ceremony but for their everyday wear. I found some local (not touristy) markets that were unbelievable. I snapped thousands of photos for future reference. I enjoyed roaming the streets and talking to the vendors in my broken Spanish sprinkled and confused with Chinese and English.
We came home to our place in Baja Mexico very exhausted but richer in spirit. We also became sponsors of four children. Three of which their mom and dad just left them. Fortunately one woman has brought them into her own home but struggles to even feed her own children. Our aid will help the four children attend school.
Xela Aid sponsored quite a few children through the 20 years that they have been visiting Guatemala. We had the opportunity to meet two young adults that were sponsored 19 years ago. This brother and sister are now grown up and have families of their own. The young woman became a teacher and the brother is now the school principal in the small village of San Juan along Lake Attltlan, quite a testimony for the sponsorship of Xela Aid. The money afforded the children to stay in school become productive citizens, now giving back and encouraging the next generation.
All anyone can hope for is an opportunity. This war torn nation has so many obstacles for their indigenous people. We can offer a helping hand but the hard work and motivation must come from the individual.
Succeeding in art is similar. It really boils down to only you. Dedication, desire, hard work, years of study and practice is the only real means of becoming a really fine artist.
Kevin and Wanda Macpherson