ENMU student weaves art, war and Navajo tradition

Teddy Draper III with a section of the mural he painted at the Community Services Center in Portales. He said the scene was reflective of a recent trip he made to the Marianas Islands. (Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry)

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

As a Marine and the son of a World War II code talker, Teddy Draper III has visited lots of battlefields over the last few years, including in Iraq. However, it was a recent trip to a historic battle site in the South Pacific that provided the inspiration for a mural he recently completed at the Community Services Center in Portales.

The mural, which is 36 feet long and 8 feet high, makes the cafeteria wall appear as if one is looking through windows at a landscape of rolling green hills and trees beyond. He said the scene was reflective of a recent trip he made to the Marianas Islands.

“This one got really green because I just got back from the Marianas Islands,” said Draper, an Eastern New Mexico University senior arts major.

Using latex acrylic paints, he completed the project in four long days
“This was a great opportunity for me to practice and learn my trade,” said Draper, who grew up on the is Navajo reservation near Chinle, Ariz.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Draper was in the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserves. His father was part of an elite unit of Navajos who served in World War II by speaking a code on battlefield radio transmissions that was based on the Navajo language. The history of the code talkers received national attention after a movie, “Windtalkers,” starring Nicholas Cage, was released.

Draper worked on the production, which took him to various World War II Pacific island battle sites, including Iwo Jima and the Marianas Islands.

Draper said the code talkers were actually under orders not to talk about what they did for 20 years. He said while he had known about his dad’s service, recent events, including the movie, and his service in Iraq had brought up a lot of questions for him.

“It will be good for kids to know why their families were torn apart,” Draper said.
Draper worked on another mural — the Jack Williamson mural at ENMU’s Golden Library. He says he tends to focus on Native American-themed art.

Draper moved to Clovis in 2000 to enter the nursing program at Clovis Community College. While he was enrolled, he took a drawing class and became interested in art.

“I picked up my first brush five years ago,” the reserved Draper said, with a twinkle in his brown eyes.

He said he dreams of a master’s degree in art and the opportunity to be involved in education at some point.

For now, Draper is content to concentrate on his art, his family and working as he prepares for a show that starts Saturday at the Runnells Gallery at ENMU’s Golden Library.

According to Micki Muhlbauer, chairperson of the ENMU art department, Draper did the CSC mural on a directed study, which puts together an idea and a student for a specific purpose.

“This is nice because it serves also as a community service project,” Muhlbauer said. “He did a great job. I haven’t told him yet — but he got an ‘A.’”

Community center Executive Director Pam O’Malley said meal-site visitors used to sit facing the doors on the other side of the room. Now they face the mural. She said the seniors enjoyed watching Draper work, and nearly every day someone would ask if he was finished yet and what else he was going to add to the scene.