Beverly Hills High School

Robin Strayhorn jazzes up Central Avenue with mural expansion

Flames blanket the tiles and slowly transform the green glaze to a deep red. What appears at first like a destructive action reveals itself, with the opening of the kiln door, as a solidifying force to not just the clay the tiles are made of, but the mural as a whole.

Ten years ago, Robin Strayhorn began working on the Central Avenue Jazz Park Mural in an effort to commemorate the historical importance of the 1930s and 1940s jazz musicians in that area. Now, Strayhorn renews her work on the mural as part of a project to revitalize the surrounding area of Central Avenue in preparation for the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Central Avenue Jazz Festival on July 25-26.

Commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Councilman Curren D. Price, Strayhorn is in the process of creating eight additional panels to add to the ends of the existing mural.

Strayhorn kept with her original design of jazz musicians in the mural but decided to shift her focus towards featuring iconic female jazz figures of the time who were unrecognized for their talents.  Some of the figures featured in the new panels include Clora Bryant, Kitty Bilbrew White, Art Pepper, Ernie Andrews and Britt Woodman.

Although new subjects have been featured in the mural, the process of constructing the mural remains the same as Strayhorn works with students to glaze the tiles.  Partnering with the organization Art Active, Strayhorn holds a workshop with local students every Monday and Wednesday for two hours at the All Peoples Community Center.

Surrounded by jars of glaze with names such as butter toffee, pumpkin orange, olive and cocoa, Strayhorn shows the student artists how to change the texture of the glaze as it goes onto the tile. When the students aren’t busy glazing tiles for the mural, Strayhorn shows them how to make their own tiles from scratch.

Hoping to be a painter, student Jonathan Meza found that participating in the art program allowed him to learn more about the field he hopes to one day pursue.

“I find that, to start doing glazing, it’s a lot more fun, because not only does it allow me to increase my patience, but it allows me to spend time doing something that I actually do enjoy,” Meza said.

The students delicately trace the outlines on the tiles with a thin paintbrush while Strayhorn watches over and gives advice. Strayhorn’s pride for the students’ work is clear, and she feels the role the students play is an important one.

“Young people feel like they have a part in the development of their community. They can have a sense of ownership, and also it gives them a chance to see how something they worked on becomes an important part of the public domain,” Strayhorn said.

Student Crystal Ortega summed up the pride the students feel, describing it as a “good feeling,” knowing that they helped in the expansion of the mural.

Hoping to at least have one panel complete by the time of the Central Ave Jazz Festival at the end of the month, Strayhorn predicts the mural expansion will be completed and ready for installation by the end of August.