“I didn’t want to do just one tiny section and leave the whole thing empty,” says Nico Gomez while in front of his mural at Lowell Elementary on July 26 in Everett. The Belize native took several weeks off from work to complete the mural with a school mascot leopard theme. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Leapin’ leopards! It’s a jungle out there at Lowell Elementary

It takes a village to make a school mural.

Of course, it helps if there is a talented artist in the mix.

What’s up with that?

A jungle mural at Lowell Elementary School in Everett covers what was once a drab wall near where kids wait to get picked up.

The colorful makeover was painted by a parent, Nico Gomez, 43, who has been trying to revive his art career since moving here from Belize in 2009.

Gomez was discovered a year ago by PTA officer Aleas Aeschleman. She is his 8-year-old daughter, Nikita’s, Girl Scout troop leader and a friend of his wife, Kathleen.

“Kat had invited us over for a play date and I was overwhelmed by all the artwork in their home,” Aeschleman said. “It was an extraordinary amount of artwork and it was all very beautiful. And I was like, ‘What’s up with that?’ ”

She was so impressed she went to the PTA board and requested Gomez paint a mural on that ugly wall. After seeing examples of his paintings, the board and principal approved the project, a jungle scene with leopards, the school’s mascot.

The stipend for Gomez came from PTA funds. He took several weeks off from his main job as a sales associate at World Market to paint the mural at the school, where his 5-year-old son, Nico Jr., starts kindergarten in the fall.

“He could be charging so much more. He’s not doing it purely volunteer, but for the most part he is,” Aeschleman said.

She was in charge of getting supplies for the project.

“We are a Title 1 school. We have a heck of a time fundraising within our community,” she said.

Lowell has about 600 students, preschool through fifth grade, with about 70 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunches.

“I had visited several stores in the area who were all, ‘Well, we could donate some old paint and a gallon here or a gallon there,’ ” Aeschleman said. “And I went to Ace Hardware and Judith said, ‘I’ll give you all the paint, I’ll give you all the primer and all the sealants. No problem.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Those moments are the restore-your-faith-in-humanity type of moments.”

Judith Pyle, owner of the Ace Hardware on Evergreen Way, said she doesn’t say yes to everybody, but wanted to support a local elementary school.

“I love the creative art community thing. It kind of goes with hardware; it kind of all flows together. It helps the kids in generations to come,” Pyle said.

Lowell Girl Scouts cleaned and scraped the wall to prep it for painting.

“We had to chip off a lot of old paint on the wall before he could start,” Aeschleman said. “The girls worked super hard. We tied it into a badge they were earning, the painting badge for Brownies. It was really neat to listen to Nico’s story of how he started painting at the age of 10. I brought butcher paper and, using watercolors, we made our own murals after that project.”

Gomez told the girls how as a teen he moved from Guatemala to Punta Gorda, Belize, where he honed his craft as an artist in various ways.

“I was sort of an all-arounder guy,” he said. “This was my main job, mural or sign painting. I used to do boats, paint on bicycles, cars. Oh, my God, I was always busy. Otherwise, when there was nothing going on, which was seldom, I would do barbering. I would do tattooing. I would go out to sing with my friends who had bands. I was never bored.”

He met Kathleen, who grew up in Everett, when she was a special education teacher in Punta Gorda for the Peace Corps from 2001 to 2003. The couple married in 2006.

Gomez came to Everett in 2009 without a portfolio. “I didn’t have pictures or evidence of what I did in the past. We didn’t have cellphones in those times other than the flip phones,” he said.

His wife said his artwork was well known in Punta Gorda and tourists would have their picture taken by his works, such as the iconic town clock tower with tropical scenes he and another artist painted.

“It was everywhere in town,” she said. “You go to the bank, that’s his sign. On the bus line, he did that. The town’s entryway is another community project he did. People appreciated him and knew him. He didn’t need to sell himself there.”

Gomez was a stay-at-home dad while she taught at a middle school in Seattle. He earned a degree in art from Everett Community College, where one of his bold paintings hung in the student union building until it was taken down due toa recent remodel.

He also painted a mural in the children’s area at his church in Seattle when he had a broken arm. “I painted the alphabet and each letter had a picture that started with that letter. Oh, man, I rigged up that room.”

​The Lowell mural of leopards in their natural habitat fits with his colorful free-style expression.

“I just create things as I go along,” Gomez said. “It’s from my brain. I just fill it in and figure it out.”

It took him two weeks to complete the mural.

“He worked from sunup to sundown,” Lowell principal Cindy Foster said. “The amount of hours he did, it is from the kindness of his heart.”

The mural scored an A-plus from Foster.

“This is an older school. This is something that refreshes this school and makes it as nice as it can be,” she said. “There have been a lot of people stopping and commenting.”

Everett Public Schools touted the mural by sending out a district-wide news release about it.

Pyle is pleased with the outcome of her paint.

“My jaw just dropped when I got out of the car and saw it,” she said. “I couldn’t think of a word better than ‘fabulous.’ ”

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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