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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
ESPAÑOLA – The life of Renezmae Calzada was unfairly snuffed out in September, but the spirit of the feisty 5-year-old is clearly visible in a mural on the Wise Fire Station.
Toby Morfin, a professional artist, and Adrian Sandoval, a Los Alamos National Laboratory employee who is known for his airbrush painting, have been working on the mural since mid-November.
They expect to finish it in the next month, weather permitting.
Morfin said he began searching for a wall on which to memorialize Renezmae
almost immediately after he read about her death in September.
Renezmae’s mother, Victoria Maestas, reported her missing on Sept. 8 and her body was found in the Rio Grande in Santa Clara Pueblo by law enforcement on Sept. 11 after an extensive search by police, government agencies and community members.
Renezmae’s mother’s ex-boyfriend, Malcolm Torres, was indicted by a grand jury on Sept. 24 on charges of second-degree murder in connection with the girl’s death. His trial is currently scheduled for Oct. 19.
“When I read the story, it touched me because I have daughters,” Morfin said in an interview on Jan. 14. “I didn’t want this little girl to be forgotten.”
Morfin, who has been involved in numerous community fundraisers to raise awareness about opioid addiction and other social problems, wasted little time in
mentioning his idea of painting a mural to Rio Arriba County Commissioner Leo Jaramillo, an Española native.
“I knew with Leo’s backing the mural would happen,” Morfin said.
Fate intervened when Morfin ran into John Wickersham, president of the Española Firefighters Union, at an event at Santa Fe Community College, not long after Morfin had approached Jaramillo.
Wickersham told Morfin about a half-finished mural that had been abandoned by an artist who had been sentenced to community service.
The mural was on the side of the Wise Fire Station on the corner of La Joya Road
and Wise Lane.
After the project was approved by the City Council, Morfin decided to team up with Sandoval, whose work has been featured in Lowrider magazine, for their first collaboration.
After they found their wall, Sandoval and Morfin knew it was time to solicit the input of Renezmae’s family. Ashley Sena, a friend of the family, obtained a photo of Renezmae from the girl’s mother, and began acting as the liaison between the family and the artists.
“The family had ideas about the colors they wanted. They gave us a picture of her in a red-and-black check dress that she had worn for Christmas,” Morfin said.
“They wanted to make sure we got Renezmae’s smirk right. They stressed the smirk,” he said.
Renezmae’s constant companion, a teddy bear she called Mr. Bear, wasn’t in the photo, but the artists’ portrait shows her carrying it under her arm. In their mural, Mr. Bear is shedding a tear over the loss of his human friend, whose nickname was MaeMae.
“It was important to have Ashley as a go-between,” Morfin said.
Painting the mural has been a very emotional experience, said Sandoval and Morfin. Family and community members have come by to share their reminiscences of Renezmae and to bring the artists food and drink.
The materials for the project were donated by Zia Credit Union and Hacienda Home Centers.
Morfin and Sandoval have given Renezmae a set of angel’s wings, which they are still working on. Although most of the mural is done, the artists must still finish the lettering for Renezmae’s name and a logo for the firefighters’ union that says “Serving the Española Valley since 1937.”
The final step will be applying an anti-graffiti finish to the mural to prevent anyone from damaging it. When people have “tagged” other public art in town that has this finish on it, the graffiti has been easily removed, Morfin said.
Once the mural is complete, there will be a dedication ceremony for the community. “Then we can let Renezmae rest in peace,” Morfin said.
A native of La Mesilla, Morfin is a self-taught artist who said he has been drawing for as long as he can remember. His work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos.
Morfin has a line of clothing and is working on a fundraiser for the new Española Pathways Shelter for the homeless. The benefit will feature decorated plates curated by Morfin and food by celebrity chef Fernando Ruiz, who has been featured on such TV shows as “Beat Bobby Flay.”
The curated plate concept was a hit when Morfin did a fundraiser for Assistance Dogs of the West, he said.