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Rabbitbrush Rambler: Hispanic artwork is alive

Posted: Tuesday, Nov 13th, 2012

Whenever I visit a museum with historical exhibits, I learn what people have thought to be important in a region’s lifestyles and values and what still has usefulness and value today.

“Imágenes del Pais” (Images of the Homeland”) is at the San Luis Valley Museum in Alamosa until January 31. This exhibit shows that traditional Hispanic crafts and artwork are still alive and have meaning today, not only for the skilled Hispanic artisans who created the individual pieces but also for all those who view them and leave with greater understanding and appreciation of the culture.

Their work, which is in the colonial tradition, has been done in the past 30 years or so, with most of the craftspeople still living. The pieces were created in the San Luis Valley and elsewhere in Colorado. They have lived in the San Luis area, in Mesita west of Antonito, in Capulin west of La Jara, and in Denver and Albuquerque.

Some of the exhibitors have been recognized nationally by the Smithsonian Institution, and the work of Franke Zamora and the Carlos Santistevans, senior and junior, has been accepted by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society’s annual show in Santa Fe. Additional featured artwork in the SLV Museum exhibit is by Carlos Atencio, Eppie Archuleta, Lynn Fresquez, Rubel Jaramillo, Josephine Lobato, Juan Ysidro Maez, Antonio Martinez, Rita and Paul Martinez, George Monnet, Brigida Montes, Geronimo Olivas, Annie Romero, Harry Sandoval, and Francisco Vigil.

The selection in this show represents a wide variety of handcrafted work. The exhibit has religious bultos (wood sculpture) and santos (painted on flat wooden slabs) and other work that is decorative or functional, such as weavings, embroidered colcha, quilting, tin work, painting on buffalo hide, and wood furnishings.

These artisans are passionate about using authentic materials. Some pieces have images painted with natural pigments, wood from native trees, vegetal-dyed wool, pine sap varnish, buffalo hide and bone, and corn husks. Without convenient stores nearby or much cash, resourceful artists in former times used what was readily available, such as wool from their sheep and wood from the forest, to produce beautiful works of art.

Rick Manzanares, who recently retired at Fort Garland Museum, curated this special exhibit. He was assisted in curating this exhibit in Alamosa by artists Santistevan and Zamora.

The Luther Bean Museum at ASU (Mon.-Fri., 2-5) also has a few fine examples of earlier Rio Grande weaving and religious santos and bultos, as well as more recent work by Eppie Archuleta. Unfortunately, Hispanic pieces are tucked in the balcony, up an extra flight of stairs, in violation of federal law regarding public access. But what is up there is well worth the climb to see it.

Another temporary exhibit focusing on Hispanic life can be seen now at the Rio Grande County Museum and Cultural Center. With the title “Los Primeros Pobladores,” it features early Spanish-speaking settlers, settlements, photographs, and fiber arts in the area, with carefully researched interpretive information accompanying the display.

Museums in the San Luis Valley offer outstanding opportunities to learn about our history, to enjoy nostalgic reminiscing, and to expand our ideas about what we can do if we use skills creatively. Countless volunteers and staff members in our communities keep these museums operating.

Although several local museums close during the winter, others are open year-round. Visitors should find welcome mats out year-around at the San Luis Valley Museum, the Rio Grande County Museum, Fort Garland State Museum, Luther Bean Museum, and the Creede Underground Mining Museum.

Before traveling several miles for a visit, visitors should check museum schedules, which sometimes change in different seasons. The San Luis Valley Museum remains open Tuesday through Friday, 10-4, and Saturday, 10-2.

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