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Colorado artist's murals spotlight lesser-known women who made their mark on history

Adri Norris concentrates on women —predominantly women of color and from marginalized groups. Her portraits include context on why these women are important.

LOUISVILLE, Colo — Art can be loud. Without saying a single word, it can speak volumes. Artist Adri Norris’ works commands people to listen.

“The content makes people uncomfortable,” Norris said as she worked on a mural covering half of the outside back wall at 637 Front St. in Louisville.

The mural depicts a history that includes pushing out Native Americans, realities of the town’s coal-mining past, treatment of workers in the mines and environmental impacts of mining.

That's exactly what Tiffany Boyd was looking for when she found Norris. Boyd is the executive director of Classrooms for Climate Action (CCA). She led CCA students in a discussion on the subject matter and brainstorming ideas for the design.

“We started looking at the removal of Indigenous people from this land in order for the extraction of coal, and started to learn a more complete history of eastern Boulder County,” Boyd said. “There’s a real cry to uncover where those layers of systemic racism are throughout history that we can learn from.”

Credit: Anne Herbst

The mural is anchored on the right by a picture of education, with books that predominantly focus on marginalized communities. On the left side of the mural is Ava Hamilton, an activist who focuses on Indigenous rights.

Hamilton is shown with a quote: "One of the things we're advocating for is to include the teaching of our histories into public education."

Norris' murals and works of art have one thing in common – a focus on women, like Hamilton, who have made their mark in history but not necessarily in many history books.

“When I first started this project, I was thinking in terms of role models," Norris said while painting a portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the earliest female civil rights activists.

"I mean, man, look at how many role models I’ve been deprived of by not knowing who these people were," she said. "There was a little bitterness that was fueling the work for a good chunk of time.”

Credit: Anne Herbst

She concentrates on predominantly women of color or other marginalized groups. Her portraits also include context on why that woman is important to history, and she integrates text in her pieces.

“I use this work to really showcase the humanity,” Norris said. “I’m not only showing you, ‘Hey, here’s a picture of this lady I think is cool.’ I’m telling you what she did."

“When we lose these stories of women in history, we lose the template for who has done this before," she said.

Credit: Anne Herbst

When it comes to the women she selects to thoroughly research and then paint, she does not always focus on the people who are well-known.

“We have a tendency with women in history to just relegate a few of them. Like a few of them get to do something,” Norris said while addressing a crowd at an art show in Crested Butte in October. Works in her “Women Behaving Badly” series hung on the walls.

She asked the group at Crested Butte’s Center for the Arts to name a famous female aviator. They answered with a resounding “Amelia Earhart!”

“See how everyone said the same thing?” Norris asked while chuckling and proving her point. “That’s what I’m all about. I’ve made it a point to not pick the most famous.”

Norris will not rule out painting more well-known women from history, but for now, she said she's happy to teach people about women whose stories might not be familiar. Women like Ava Hamilton, who's featured in Norris' Louisville mural.

“I am just in awe,” Boyd said. “I mean, Adri is so talented, and it is just a fantastic contribution to our community."

Credit: Anne Herbst

“Personally, as an educator, having something brought to our community that stirs conversation, that invokes people ... to find out more, is what we were looking for," Boyd said.

Norris said she hopes to keep learning about amazing women — so she can keep teaching the world about people they might not have otherwise learned about.

“It’s like clickbait," she said. "I make you look at a pretty picture, and oops, you learned something, and now all of a sudden you want to learn some more stuff."

Norris’ works can be found across the Denver metro area:

  • Ralston Creek Trail near United Hail Pros, 5790 N. Lamar St., Arvada
  • Glenarm Recreation Center, 2800 Glenarm Place, Denver
  • Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (inside), 119 Park Ave. W, Denver
  • Lolita’s Market, 800 Pearl St., Boulder
  • Manual High School (inside), 1700 E. 28th Ave., Denver
  • Odyssey School of Denver Elementary, 6550 E. 21st Ave., Denver
  • Columbine Elementary School, 2540 E. 29th Ave., Denver
  • Montbello Library, 12955 Albrook Drive, Denver

Norris’ website also contains her smaller works.

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