Blackwell school reopens to the public Saturday

MARFA – This Saturday, the Blackwell School Alliance will reopen its museum doors, welcoming visitors into the former schoolhouse that operated during the era of segregated Hispanic education in Marfa. While the pandemic canceled the organization’s plans for its block party, “charette” roundtable talks and more, the alliance used a year of closures to advance other projects that are now coming to fruition.

Inside the museum, photographs and memorabilia from the school are on display, thanks to former students who have donated items relevant to their time at the school. When the doors closed last spring, Alliance President Gretel Enck said the group was able to take the closure in stride by focusing on projects that could still be accomplished.

Nearly 100 items in the museum’s possession were photographed, documenting letterman sweaters, diplomas, report cards, class rings and more from the collection, along with photographs from the era that are still being digitized. For the first time, those items are available for viewing online at www.theblackwellschool.org/ under “explore the virtual museum.” It’s even interactive, allowing viewers to leave comments if they know more about an object.

Another undertaking was Camila’s First Day, a coloring book that tells the story of a student attending Blackwell School, written and illustrated by two current students of Marfa schools.

Febi Brimhall, who moved to Marfa during her freshman year of high school said it was her pleasure to write the story for young learners. Joining Brimhall was Aubrie Aguilar, a lifelong Marfa resident and high schooler.

“I didn’t know that much about Blackwell, only that it was an old school some of the people around me went to when they were younger,” said Aguilar about starting on the project as the illustrator. Her grandmother and aunts attended school at Blackwell, but she took the illustration job as a learning experience. She reached out to her family members to learn about their experiences going to the school, and got some inspiration for the coloring book by asking one of her aunts about the clothing that was popular at the time.

The project changed the way Aguilar thought about Marfa and about race relations in the town’s history. “I was able to get a look into the lives of some of the people I see all around Marfa,” she said. “The past and the present are so different, it is crazy to know how much Marfa has changed.”

Others in the younger generations will soon be able to learn more about the school, as the coloring book is going into mass production, and will be widely available next month, free of charge, to anyone who wants it. “So much we do with the Blackwell School is thinking about and talking about how everybody has value,” Enck explained. “We want kids to love the skin they’re in, and that’s hard to do sometimes when society is telling you otherwise.”

The alliance hired curriculum writer Danver Chandler, who “created a lesson plan that really provides a powerful, yet age-appropriate, way to talk about race and racism with kids,” Enck said, gearing it towards kindergarten through second grade.

Enck hopes to host teacher workshops where Marfa, Fort Davis and Alpine teachers can be introduced to the educational materials that accompany the coloring book, and, in time, translate the coloring book into Spanish to reach even more audiences.

Enck said, “The virtual museum, the lesson plan, getting this amazing tool for the coloring book that anyone can relate to, and having the time behind the scenes to get it done and get it done so well, makes it feel like we didn’t miss any time –– we’re okay.”

The Blackwell School is now open on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., and the same time on Sundays during any holiday weekend.


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