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WOODLAND HILLS — David Aranzamendez Legaspi III, an eleemosynary muralist who left his mark all over the campuses of Santa Monica’s schools and for the past decade placed paint brushes in the hands of students and parents, was found dead in Woodland Hills, Calif. on June 5. He was 51.

He died of natural causes, according to the office of the Los Angeles County Coroner. Family members said Legaspi suffered from a heart condition.

Announcement of Legaspi’s death was delayed until final identification could be made and his family in Australia could be notified.

Legaspi’s public artwork, acclaimed for its vast beauty and enriching subject matter, served a greater purpose in the Santa Monica and Malibu communities. Many of his mural services were charitable projects organized to unite community members in a personal campaign that would galvanize students and parents and would encourage participants to shed their inhibitions.

Phil Cott, principal of Webster Elementary School in Malibu, was one of the first school representatives to work with the artist. He recalled one of the projects Legaspi created for Webster, a mural of an oceanic scene on an embankment overlooking a grass playfield.

“That was the beginning of him painting five or six huge and beautiful murals here, … at literally every school in our district and in many other places,” Cott said. “[Legaspi] was prolific.”

Not only was he omnipresent, Legaspi placed all his projects before himself, Cott said. He was a true steward of the community and refused payment for his public services on a number of occasions. Cott said the artist would frequently pay for his own materials and often used the money from his private commissions to fund his public works.

“He was like a Pied Piper of art,” Cott said. “And he would put brushes in kids’ hands and turn them loose, and make them feel like they were part of something beautiful and permanent.”

Legaspi’s little artists

In 1999, finishing up work as an architect in Malibu, Legaspi was formulating the blueprints for a life-changing plan. Many of his friends had children in local schools, and with art as his passion, Legaspi sought to volunteer his time to paint for the schools and his friends’ children.

It started on holidays and weekends — whenever he would have free time. And then a snowball effect took over: The artist soon found himself waist-deep in phone calls and offers to paint more campuses.

“I found myself having so much fun that I quit my job,” Legaspi said in an interview with the Santa Monica Daily Press in 2006. “At first I told my boss I was going to take a little break to do this, and then I just got taken by it.”

He finished eight schools by 2002 and would continue to paint all over the Southland. Legaspi would paint murals for schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Los Angeles Unified School District, for private and public schools in the San Fernando Valley and South Bay and for nonprofits.

“He was the single most generous and dramatic contributor to this school district that I am aware of,” Cott said. “His legacy is everywhere you look.”

Legaspi painted for and with the schools’ children, who he called his “little artists.”

Colin Cadarette, a family friend who attended Webster Elementary and painted with Legaspi since he was 6, said the artist was an example of how to live, citing the happiness and joy he brought people. Legaspi was a master with people. He would float from group to group of painters and volunteers of all ages, guiding and directing them, making sure they were keeping busy and enjoying themselves.

“For me, seeing that from a young age, it seemed like what you were supposed to do,” Cadarette said. “And it didn’t really matter what kind of rewards you got out of it. At the end of the day, it’s all about bringing joy to the world, and I think he really understood that.”

No small feat

Legaspi was born on Nov. 19, 1960, in Manila, Philippines, the oldest of the five children of Letty and David Legaspi, Jr., from Sydney, Australia. Legaspi also lived with his “adopted” parents, Alice Stone and Barney Muller, from Lomita, Calif.

Legaspi was educated at the University of St. Thomas, Philippines, where he majored in architecture. Upon his graduation in 1983, Legaspi worked as an apprentice to one of President Ferdinand Marcos’ private architects. Then he worked as an architect, visual designer, merchandiser and publicity artist for the U.S. Army & Air Force Exchange Service at Clark Air Force Base, Philippines and the Royal Air Force in Upper Heyford, England, where he said he got to travel all over. Legaspi said both jobs influenced and shaped him as an artist.

After work overseas, Legaspi spent a year as a civilian architect in Madison, Wis. In 1993, he became a full-time artist and muralist, stating that his day job was getting in the way of his art. Legaspi freelanced first in Sydney and then in Los Angeles. He would return to architecture at the CBMG Management Group in Santa Monica for three years before going back to painting full-time.

“He was definitely someone who chose not to live within what society tells you to do or what you’re supposed to do,” Cadarette said. “It was no small feat turning every single school in Malibu into a piece of art.”

The artist, who took inspiration from greats such as Leonardo da Vinci and Salvador Dalí, strived not only to create art that fit the themes of the school districts he painted in, but also to portray themes of people, community, social life and family.

In addition to his parents and “adopted” parents, Legaspi is survived by his siblings, Dodie, Marileth, Denn and Malou.

A memorial service for Legaspi will be held June 27 at 1 p.m. at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall at 600 Olympic Blvd. A Facebook page, “David Legaspi III Memorial Page,” is commemorating the artist and posting announcements with regards to services online, and the David Legaspi III Memorial Fund is now accepting contributions: David Legaspi III Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 2863, Malibu, Calif. 90265.

Legaspi, the joyful missionary of art, leaves behind hundreds of touched lives, a legacy that spans miles and a message that will continue to ring years from now.

“Just a few minutes of painting can last a lifetime,” he said. “To think that helping one child paint a fish on a bathroom wall can somehow lead to them becoming an artist, or to even appreciate art a little more, that is wonderful.”

news@smdp.com

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