By MAGGIE MCMURRAY
Moapa Valley Progress
Local residents gathered at the Old Logandale School on Saturday in a celebration that tied past and present together in a piece of artwork that will last well into the future. Artist Heidi Lewis Leavitt unveiled her mural “Valued Foundation” in its new and permanent place on the wall of the main hall of the historic building.
The idea for the mural, which depicts important scenes in Moapa Valley history, was born when Leavitt was chosen as a finalist for a County-wide contest to select a mural for the Overton Community Center earlier this year. Although one of the top three, Leavitt’s mural was not finaly chosen for that location. But Leavitt’s grandfather, Paul Lewis, felt that Heidi’s piece was too culturally important to go unfinished.
He volunteered to sponsor the painting. He and Leavitt then approached the board of Old Logandale School Historic and Cultural Society (OSCHACS), which administers the building as a museum for local history, to find a permanent home for the mural. Museum directors Beezy Tobiasson and Robin Maughn were thrilled with the idea of displaying the mural in a place that celebrates local history and had the perfect place for it.
“It’s a magnificent work of art,” said Tobiasson. “It’s a great tribute to all the families depicted as well as for all the generations coming up. We’re so priveleged to have it here and will value it forever.”
Leavitt’s depiction of the settlement of Moapa Valley has an intimate feel as it examines the very lives and struggles of those who settled the area. This was intentional on Leavitt’s part. Leavitt said that she had began her sketches for the work with treatments of historic buildings in the area. But she realized that more was needed.
“The more I proceeded, I realized that it was not the buildings that made the history of Moapa Valley, but rather the people that built them,” Leavitt said. “I felt that those are the ones that needed to have their stories told.”
The mural measures 8’ high X 40’ long. It is painted with oil on masonite and depicts scenes from the lives of 20 founding families of Moapa Valley, including the native Paiute tribe.
Each scene is designed to depict a different value held by the settlers that helped to make the community what it is today. It was the depiction of these values that led to Leavitt to title her work “Valued Foundation.” Leavitt also dedicated the mural to the memory of her grandmother Lou Jeanne Lewis.
Attendance for the unveiling was standing-room only and as the cloth covering the mural fell away, a reverent hush descended over the audience. Leavitt began explaining each depiction in the mural and the story that prompted it. Many times she became overwhelmed by emotion as she told the stories that she chose to depict.
The mural begins with a depiction of the Paiute tribe and the importance the big horn sheep played to their culture. A portrait of well-known Paiute matriarch Topsy Swain is also depicted making a basket.
As the mural continues to flow, history unfolds, showing experiences from the lives of pioneers that had an impact on Moapa Valley. Leavitt includes stories of Harry and Martha Gentry, Edward Syphus, Johann and Ann Bonelli, Lyman and Annie Shurtliff, Joseph and Nellie Robison, Ute and Lovina Perkins, Old Mack-the famous horse of Edwin Marshall, Leland and Maudeen Whitmore, Warren Harvey Lyon, Paul and Lou Jeanne Lewis, Clarence and Lillian Lewis, and Martin Allen Bunker. She also depicts the early farms and dairies in the valley and early businesses including Glendale Service, Moapa Valley Telephone, Anderson Mercantile, Clark Dairy, Western Auto Hardware, Jones Mercantile, and Cooper’s Market.
The mural was received very well by the community, as well as the many friends and family that were in attendance.
“I love the mural and I’m so proud of the artist that drew it,” said Leavitt’s grandfather Paul Lewis who sponsored the work. “I think she did a beautiful job.”
Even those that had never met Heidi were impressed. Snowbird Stella Stutz said, “It is just mind-boggling and awesome that she could put all that history into those spaces. It is an incredible piece that almost brings you to tears.” Stutz’s friend Brenda Gastineau agreed, saying, “What made the biggest impression on me was the emotional presentation the woman gave. Her depth of feeling for each depiction brought the whole thing to life for me.”
The mural can be viewed during regular OLSHACS business hours for those who missed the unveiling or for those who just want to see it again.
“I would like to extend a heartfelt invitation to anyone and everyone to come and experience a past time in our Valley and view a magnificent mural that tells a story of strong and faithful people,” said Tobiasson. “Heidi has created a beautiful and spiritual painting for generations to come.”