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Teen's Mural Shows Art Has a Role in the Marketplace

Competition* Nicole Turner's prize-winning montage of Grand Central visitors and workers will decorate the landmark emporium.

September 24, 2002|GAYLE POLLARD-TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nicole Turner, 18 and rail thin, strolls the crowded aisles of Grand Central Market, the open-air cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers, sweets, meat, poultry, fish and meals that proclaims it has been "feeding Los Angeles since 1917."

The colors catch Turner's blue eyes first. The so very bright neon signs--in vivid orange, yellow, blue, green, pink, purple--beckon her to look over here, pause there.

"You walk in, and there is so much going on," Turner says. She sits in a shiny red chair in front of the wall where her prize-winning mural will be unveiled Wednesday. She studies the jostling people, couples holding hands, children grabbing their mothers' skirts, and bargain-hunters who are as abundant and varied in color and shape as the potatoes, squash, corn, avocados and melons piled into pyramids.

This landmark, located in downtown Los Angeles at 317 Broadway, draws nearly 70,000 customers, largely Latinos, in an average week. Monday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., they thread through more than 40 shops, buying by the piece, the pound, the bag, the box, the crate. During the workweek, a lunch crowd packs the place for tacos, hoagies, stir-fried tofu, Salvadoran pupusas, chicken done a dozen ways.

The faces of people who shop, eat or work at the market are the focus of the young artist's detailed montage. Her interpretation won a competition to capture the spirit of the Grand Central Market. Sponsored by the market to bring students from around L.A. to a historic site at the city's center, the contest was open to students at public high schools in the Los Angeles district.

The nine judges--among them L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the area; architect Brenda Levin, who is responsible for the historical restoration of the market; and Ralph Penilla, who runs Roast to Go, the meat shop started 50 years ago by his parents--selected Turner's piece out of 30 entries. They praised the caliber of her drawing, done in colored pencil, and her ability to portray human character and emotions.

Creating a mural from the picture required sending the image to a Nevada company for copying. A Tennessee firm capable of extreme enlargements put the artwork on weatherproof vinyl, which will last longer than a traditional mural painted on a wall. The Grand Central Market mural, 14 1/2 feet high and 12 feet wide, will decorate an interior wall near the Hill Street entrance.

For her work, Turner will receive $1,000. Second-place winner Shawn Olunkwa, 17, of Los Angeles High, will get $500, and third-place winner, Daniel Torres, 16, of Belmont High, will pocket $250.

Turner is a June graduate of Fairfax High School and a self-described groovy, eclectic hippie chick. On a recent visit to the market, she wore an embroidered black Mexican peasant shirt bought at a thrift store, green corduroy pants, a messenger bag studded with pins representing her favorite musicians, and red Converse tennis shoes--the same ones she wore to the prom.

Drawing ever since she "could hold a pencil," she once asked her mother, "Do your hands hurt when you don't get to draw?"

The picture that will grace the market is hers, but she shares the credit for this award with her favorite teacher, "Miss K."--Carol Kawaoka, the art department chair at Fairfax. Kawaoka remembers when art classes disappeared from many campuses because of budget cuts. "Every year, I had to worry about my job. If the enrollment dropped, the electives would be the first to be canceled."

She worries less now. High school students who aspire to the UC or Cal State university systems must take two semesters of visual arts, music, dance or theater. The new admissions requirement, phased in incrementally, will become mandatory in 2006.

At Wednesday's unveiling, the teacher and the school will each receive $500 in prize money. Kawaoka will spend some of it on a flatbed scanner and put the rest toward a liquid-crystal-display projector that can flash images from the Internet onto a large screen and also do power-point presentations.

Before she met "Miss K.," Turner hadn't felt a real connection with any teacher in high school. After an unsettled freshman year at the visual arts magnet school at Fairfax, she completed her sophomore year doing independent study and being home-schooled. She returned in her junior year to Fairfax, not to the magnet school but to the general school. She enrolled in an introductory art class taught by Kawaoka. The teacher also taught her in a painting class her senior year and made Turner her teaching assistant.

And, Turner says, her teacher started entering her work in contests--including urging her to create a piece for the Grand Central Market competition.

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