In the bracelet, there was a little butterfly charm that didn’t really register as such in the original reference. While I was painting, I asked Veronica if there’s something else that might be more important, more meaningful, that I could replace it with. She said, yes, actually there’s this heart charm her grandmother gifted her and let’s see if you can integrate that...And the next day I put it in...It's the little things that mean a lot at the end.

Anat Ronen

Anat Ronen’s Artist Statement

This project came fast and demanding. Upon being assigned with painting a mural representing Tess, I started my research online. There were a couple of photos used by the media, a beautiful article on ESPN, and the video slideshow the funeral home posted online.  

I had a partial idea of who Tess was, but not a lot of visuals to go by. In my design, I wanted to both represent Tess and what she liked and make sure to communicate she was just a child when the unthinkable happened.

Then Tess’s mother, Veronica, and I had a short conversation, in which she told me briefly about Tess, about her being both a girly girl and a Tomboy. She loved sports and especially softball but she also snuck her fancy dress for the school photoshoot behind her parents back and made these bracelets for her friends and family.  

I decided to paint a large portrait of her in the fancy dress (I learned about the dress incident only while I was painting the mural), with her typical peace sign hand gesture, and as a background, to have a sticker sheet that represents her loves – Jose Altuve, the Astros, softball, TikTok, cats… she became a sticker as well, becoming a legend on her own. I added the bracelets she left behind, now worn by her sister, Faith. I added a heart charm given to her by her grandmother, which I met at the wall. I also added Oliver, her cat, who is still waiting for her.  

The small, quiet, beautiful family, came by on the first day, sheepishly watching me and Britt (Brittany Johnson from Austin) starting to paint the mural. The next day, I painted the large portrait and the family started to camp by the mural in the mornings and evenings. It was a ritual, and we started having more in-depth conversations, getting to know each other, and for me, getting an inside look into the lives forever shattered by this horrific tragedy. It was a little bit like staring at the sun, the epicenter of pain, of hurt, of longing and of love.

I am very grateful to have been able to be a part of this important project. It prevents the town from forgetting; it celebrates the victims while remembering the horrific loss. It provides respite to the parents and family members, a beautiful, colorful, stunning display of love and life that had been lost.