Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cook Library Center

Celebrated local artist Jose Narezo dies at age 63

by Sue Merrell | The Grand Rapids Press

Thursday December 18, 2008, 12:01 PM

Local artist Jose Narezo in his studio at 1140 Monroe Ave. NW in 2005. Nazero died Wednesday at age 63, after a battle with brain cancer.

GRAND RAPIDS -- From a colorful mural in the halls of Grand Rapids Central High School to the richly textured columns of San Chez A Tapas Bistro, the art of Jose Narezo continues to warm West Michigan.

Mr. Narezo died Wednesday at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital after a battle with brain cancer. He was 63.

"It's a very great loss to the artistic community," said Celeste Adams, executive director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum where Mr. Narezo was scheduled to give a solo exhibition of new work April 24-May 24. "We knew he had a serious diagnosis, but we had hoped he would be better by spring."

"I always thought he'd be able to return to the classroom," added Arthur Garner, principal at Central. Mr. Narezo taught art in Grand Rapids Public Schools for 30 years, Garner said, but had not been teaching this year because of his illness.

"He could take some of the roughest kids and have them doing things they didn't know they could do," Garner said. "And if a kid wasn't into art, he'd find something else for them to do. He gave them confidence to be the best they could be."

The youngest of 12 children, Mr. Narezo was born in Mexico. His family came to the U.S. as migrant workers, a past he reflected in an exhibit he created as part of the "Newcomers" exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Mr. Narezo earned a master's of fine arts degree at Michigan State University. Essentially a painter, he dabbled in other media, including mosaics. His most recent exhibit at GRAM was "Cuba Journal" in 2000, a collection of photographs and paintings from a visit to Cuba. Adams described his style as impressionist and colorist.

"He had a great feeling for color, "she said. "He was always a supporter of other Latin artists and an advocate for Latino culture."

In the early 1990s, he brought back a collection of tiles from Mexico and designed his first major mosaic wrapping around three and a half columns in the San Chez restaurant.

"He created an atmosphere," said owner Dan Gendler. "He loved sharing his art, getting people involved in it. He was never an uppity artist. He was such a real person."

In 2006, Mr. Narezo helped the Holland Area Arts Council create a mosaic to celebrate Tulipanes, an annual Latino art and film festival. Pieces of ceramic were donated by people in the community to create a mosaic based on a painting donated by the artist.

"His creative spirit and generosity were unparalleled," said Lorma Williams Freestone, executive director of the arts council. "He was always ready to come to our aid. He was a wonderful human being."

"He was a mentor and angel to me," said Grand Rapids Assistant City Manager Jose Reyna, who was only 13 when he met Mr. Narezo and worked with him on an outdoor mural project on Grandville Avenue in 1973-74. The two became life-long friends.

"He's very effective with at-risk youth," Reyna said, adding he recruited Mr. Narezo for several art projects with young people in Holland and Grand Rapids. "He always promoted art."

The mural near the art room at Central High School grows each year, Garner said, with additions by students who often visit years later to point out their work.

"He was a mentor to staff and students," Garner said. "He influenced Central as a whole. Through the mural, he'll always be a part of this building."

Funeral services for Jose Narezo will be 11 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, 225 32nd St. SW, Wyoming.

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Making a difference: Cook Library volunteer Patti Johnson

by Erin Fetting | The Grand Rapids Press

Sunday November 30, 2008, 5:17 AM
Volunteer at work: Patti Johnson tutors Erica Lopez, 8, in the Cook Library Center.

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Making a Difference" profiles someone whose good works make our community a better place.

Patti Johnson has a sweet spirit.

She is softspoken and somewhat uncomfortable when attention is focused on her.

She would much rather this story be about the Cook Library Center -- a division of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities -- and the children and community it serves.

But that spirit of hers has touched many lives at the library. It has made her stand out as a volunteer. While she is shy talking about herself, she is at home and comfortable working with the children who frequent the library after school each day.

"The first day, I just loved her," said Sue Garza, director of the Cook Library Center. "I loved how she interacted with the kids. They loved her,"

Johnson started volunteering about a year ago after a friend kept bugging her to try it. She took about three months to say yes, but once she got through the door of the library, she knew it was where she belonged.

"I said, 'Oh, you're right, I do love this place,'" Johnson said.

She used to teach Spanish, and still speaks it, which comes in handy, since many of the students at the library speak Spanish as their first language.

The library, formerly known as the Grandville Avenue Neighborhood Library, recently moved into a new building at 1100 Grandville Ave. SW. The building is larger and provides more room to serve the 80 kids a day who stop in to check out books, use the computers or get help with homework.

Working with kids is not new to Johnson. She raised three children, and at Fountain Street Church, where she is a member, she still works with the youth clubs, even though her children are grown.

"I've just always volunteered. I really believe in that," Johnson said. "I think everybody should find a way to give back."

Johnson is giving back, all right.

She recently pulled an all-nighter chaperoning a youth lock-in at the church. She seems to thrive on the excitement children can offer.

Last spring, Johnson helped students at the library create two quilts to be auctioned off in a fundraiser. The quilts were given back to the library and now hang in the community room. She already is thinking about next year's quilts.

While she is making an impact at the library, she is getting something in return.

"I feel lucky I found a good fit," she said. "It just has the feel of a neighborhood, a homey neighborhood place."

If you know someone who is making a difference in the community, contact Your Life at 222-5585 or e-mail:

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