- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) - With a light flick of his wrist and a delicate spray of paint from the bristles of his paintbrush, Jason Sanchez created a galaxy.

“That’s the Milky Way Galaxy,” he said, gesturing to the starry image developing on the black paint of his mural in a front hallway of Ramsey Magnet School of Science.

“You see how it’s turning blue? It’s because I watered down the white paint a whole bunch because these are the stars that are farthest back.”

This isn’t just any mural, and Sanchez isn’t just any artist.

Sanchez, a disabled Army veteran, walked the halls of the school 30 years ago when he was a Ramsey student. Now his own children are enrolled there.

And the solar system mural he’s painting is more than a piece of art - it’s educational, it’s hyper-realistic enough to look like a photograph and it’s Sanchez’s way of saying “thank you” to a school that means the world to him.

“It does mean the world to me,” he said. “I wasn’t born here (in Coeur d’Alene), I was a military kid so we bounced around a lot. Ramsey Elementary was my first school that was home. It was my first sense of safety. I think that’s why it’s so personal; it’s the first place I felt like I wasn’t going to leave and the first place to set down my young roots.

“It’s also the first place I felt nurtured as a young artist, where I felt encouraged,” he continued. “It’s the first place I knew what I was going to do with my life. It was the birthplace of my dream, and here I am, living my dream because of Ramsey Elementary.”

Sanchez, 37, a professional artist, has been spending several hours each weeknight since mid-April to complete the solar system mural at no cost to his childhood school - about a $15,000 donation of his time and talents. He plans to have it done in early June, and it will soon be home to photos of Ramsey’s stellar students of the month.

“It’s been great to have the connection from a past Ramsey student coming back to do this work,” Ramsey Vice Principal Aaron Drake said. “Just seeing Jason’s excitement has been awesome and his giving spirit through all of it has been especially touching. You just don’t run into people like that very often that want to come spend hours and hours doing something they already do for a living to just give back to the community.”

Sanchez’s military career was cut short when it was discovered he had McArdle’s disease, a rare muscle condition that causes chronic fatigue. His medications slow him down and he’ll soon be using a walker and leg braces, but the disease has yet to stop him from his sense of duty to his community.

He has created several pieces of art around the Lake City, including the giant forks in Midtown and pieces in the Blackwell Gallery.

“I’m not going to be the guy who’s going to sit on the couch,” Sanchez said. “As long as I have something to give, I’m going to give it.”

The Ramsey mural is a launching pad for what Sanchez has in mind. He completed a mural at Borah Elementary a couple years ago when his daughter attended the school, and he hopes he can make his mark on every school in the area.

“I want to leave a legacy,” he said. “Dare to dream, that’s my legacy.”

But he won’t stop at schools. He has a vision to leave his stamp on this community, which he absolutely loves. He dreams of designing and building the one big piece of art that defines the culture of Coeur d’Alene and welcomes visitors to the city. He hopes to collaborate with community leaders to make it happen someday.

“Spokane has the giant Radio Flyer wagon and the clock tower and the giant tent from the World’s Fair,” he said. “Every big town has something, and this town is finally big enough and coming into its own culturally that I want to be that guy.”

Sanchez works in various mediums and is always looking forward to the next challenge in his artistic career as he works around his physical limitations. The Ramsey piece is his first solar system mural, and while he is pleased today’s students and future generations will learn from it and enjoy it, he said it’s also dedicated to the classmates who walked those halls with him all those years ago.

“We were the first class to go all four years at Lake City (High School),” he said. “I feel like I’m not just giving something to the school, but to my friends.”

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Information from: Coeur d’Alene Press, https://www.cdapress.com


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