School library mural depicts Socorro landmarks

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Local artist Peter Rice unveiled his latest mural this week — spanning an entire wall in the library of Midwest New Mexico CAP on Garfield Street, formerly known as Torres School.

The painting of hot air balloons and local landmarks represents Socorro’s heritage. “We wanted our kids to keep learning about the past, their history,” said Shelly Rice, teaching coach and teacher at the school, as well as Peter’s wife.

John Larson — El Defensor Chieftain:  Peter Rice stands before his mural in the library at the Midwest New Mexico CAP school on Garfield Street. Rice said he completed the work depicting important sites in Socorro County’s heritage in three weeks.

Rice said he was bitten by the bug to paint when he was eight years old, years before a stroke at age 21 left him without the use of his right arm.

After stints in the U.S. Army and National Guard he was back in Socorro in 1982 riding his motorcycle on Molina Hill. “I had just came home from Fort Dix. I was riding home, planning to go to a party, and at a stop sign started having convulsions. That’s all I can remember. I had forgotten most all of my life.”

The Socorro native decided early on not to let himself be victimized by the stroke, which left him in a coma for 37 days.

“The therapist came to my house only twice,” he said. “I decided then to make myself better by going to a fitness gym over there near the post office and I started working out.”

Born right handed, he taught himself to use his left hand for painting first. “I did that in only two weeks,” he said. “It took another two years to write left handed. I’m not very good at it still.”

Rice was originally wheelchair bound but after about a year and a half he started walking. “And then started running,” he said. He ran his first 5K at the San Miguel Fiesta in 1987.

“I would have convulsions every time I finished racing, so my girlfriend Shelly, who is now my wife, told me, ‘no more’,” he said.

By 1996 Rice was playing golf. “At first it would take me about seven tries to get to a hole,” he said. “And then after six months it took only five.”

“A golf club maker noticed how well I hit and helped to get into me into an invitational for disabled golfers in Denver,” he said. “That was my first tournament.”

Using only his left arm, Rice does have a sizable handicap, but he is able to compete in tournaments in and out of state, including Denver and Las Vegas, Nev.

Rice still golfs regularly, but painting was always his first love. In 1989 he became part of staff at New Mexico Tech Community College, teaching art.

“I taught most all media,” he said. “I’m now retired after 23 years.”

The mural at the Garfield Street school took him three weeks to complete, and it wasn’t his first.

“I’ve done a mural painting at the Lemitar Cafe, and a large one at the National Guard Armory,” he said.

Rice was also commissioned to paint a picture for the Bhasker Clinic.

“He wanted one in the bathroom, and said when people sit on the pot they would be looking at fish swimming,” Rice said. “And the word Caribbean on top.”

 

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