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Mar 16

Plática Con Las Muchachas

Posted on March 16, 2023 at 8:05 AM by Ceci Vasconcellos

Jardin de Mesquite Gateway, on the corner of Spruce Ave. and Tornillo St., features beautiful, tiled murals depicting life as it was in the Historic Mesquite District through snapshots of people, places, and things. Captions of information on the tiles hint at a bigger story behind the scenes, sparking the imagination as well as providing historic context. 

When looking at the detail of the murals, it’s obvious that the vignettes are based on authentic moments in time captured by the families and residents of the original townsite. How did this come about? I reached out to Irene Oliver-Lewis, whose name is on the dedication plaque at the site, to ask about the project. She invited her sister, Sylvia Camunez, to join our conversation. The sisters, known to their family and friends as las muchachas (the girls), have deep-roots in the Historic District and still live in their ancestral home. 

Jardin de Mesquite Arch

Jardin de Mesquite, located on the corner of Spruce Ave. and Tornillo St., is the northern gateway to the Historic Mesquite District. Artwork © Court Youth Center

“Sylvia was President of Las Esperanzas at the time,” said Oliver-Lewis. “She spear-headed the project.” Las Esperanzas is a grassroots neighborhood organization whose mission is to preserve the history of the Mesquite District. There were many people involved in bringing the project to fruition, but ultimately, “it was the neighborhood that brought the garden to the City,” says Camunez. 

The artwork within the gateway park was created by Court Youth Center/Alma d’arte Charter School students under the supervision of artist Ken Wolverton. The tiled murals are composites of actual photos of residents from the neighborhood. “Ken Wolverton had neighborhood residents bring in photos and scanned them all,” said Camunez. “There were maybe 300 to 500 images scanned! That’s where the designs came from.” The exception was the image of Pablo Melendres, one of the founding fathers of the original townsite. "There were no images of him, so we had to modify and make up our own. We knew he was a farmer and knew his past, and that's how we came up with that image." Another source of images was from a previous oral history exhibit that had been done at the Court Youth Center. “It took almost a year to put the art for the park together,” recalled Camunez. 

Mosaic Panel

Founding father Pablo Melendres image (right) was created for this project because there were no photos of him. Artwork © Court Youth Center

The student artists chose the photos that would be used in the project from the hundreds of scanned photos and grouped them together to tell a story. “The kids hand painted the photos onto blank white tiles, Ken did the color design, and then they were fired in the museum kiln. Each tile is completely handmade," said Oliver-Lewis. "There was lots of guidance from Ken of course, and Sylvia was always there behind the scenes. The youth who participated were in the after-school program at Court Youth Center and just happened to attend Alma d’arte," she added. 

Some of the images used are near and dear to Las Muchachas. "The St. Genevieve Church panel has a photo of Sylvia's wedding. There's four people; Sylvia is the bride and our sister is the Maid of Honor," said Oliver-Lewis. "The panel also shows me in my First Communion outfit. And in the 50's panel, our brother is one of the teens in the image. We didn't choose the photos, it was a coincidence. It's just a really beautiful project." 

Mosaic Panel

Las Muchachas, Sylvia Camunez and Irene Oliver-Lewis are in this panel. Sylvia is the bride in the foursome bridal party in front of the church. Irene is one of the girls in the white dresses. The Court Youth Center/Alma d'arte student artists chose these images randomly for the project. Artwork © Court Youth Center

The result is a wall that perfectly captures the nostalgia of a close-knit community in a bygone era. It also preserves the history of the original townsite as told by the people who lived it, that will resonate with visitors for years to come. The tiled murals uniquely beautify this neighborhood gateway that provides a space for rest and reflection. "The Jardin really has a lot of history that isn't documented anywhere," said Sylvia. Las Muchachas agree that it's one of the prettiest parks in the city, just underutilized. “It's a great place to have a picnic.”  And to look at beautiful art. 

Jardin de Mesquite

Dedication plaque with names of Court Youth Center/Alma d'arte student artists who participated in the project. Artwork © Court Youth Center

Jardin de Mesquite Jardin de Mesquite courtyard wall with all the tiled murals. Artwork © Court Youth Center

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends, and all things public art. Please send comments and ideas for future blogs to [email protected].Rubber Ducks Blog Banner

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Feb 02

Getting Real

Posted on February 2, 2023 at 10:13 AM by Ceci Vasconcellos

The artwork commissioning process takes patience, a lot of patience. Beginning with a scribble on paper to ending with a finished piece of artwork often takes months, if not years. I have to be patient. Artist concepts, for me, are just wispy clouds floating in my brain. It’s not until I see the actual artwork that it becomes real, and then - WOW - it hits me how beautiful the vision is. 

That is what is about to happen with two big projects that I’ve been working on. The first is a sculpture by artist Art Garcia that will be attached to the tower on the recently constructed Las Cruces Fire Station #3. You may have seen Garcia’s work on the Campbell Street Bridge in El Paso, TX called “Ferrocarrilero”. He’s also created works of art for the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. 

Photo of bridge artwork made of green spray coated face profiles.

Photo credit: Art Garcia website

Garcia’s concept for our fire station is an abstract sculpture, inspired by Native American design, that portrays the role water plays in firefighting. He is currently in the fabrication phase of the art piece, which is made of powder-coated steel, and is on track to install it soon. This is still just a concept to me as I haven’t seen photos of the physical sculpture yet. I’m sure it’s going to look great, but it still doesn’t seem/feel real. 

Concept art by Art Garcia showing sculpture on tower of fire station.

Artist concept of sculpture on Fire Station #3 Tower

Concept art for Art Garcia's sculpture that will go on Fire Station #3.

Artist concept of north side of tower. 

Concept art for Art Garcia's sculpture that will go on Fire Station #3.

Artist concept of west side of tower. 

The second project will be installed at the new Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley facility on Bataan Memorial West and Rinconada Blvd. The art sculpture by artist Vito Di Bari features a cat and dog silhouette against a backdrop of the sun, with animal related cutouts in the panels that create a lattice effect. Di Bari sent photos of the sculpture to show the status of the work, and it looks so good! I’ll admit that the concept for this sculpture looked nice on paper, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough to meet the “beacon” description that we were looking for. Our selection committee, however, could see the vision, and now I do too! 

Sculpture by Di Bari of wolf mascot made from silver metal.

Mascot sculpture by Di Bari at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. 

 Sculpture by Di Bari of horned deer made of recycled materials.

Deer sculpture by Di Bari in Lemmon, South Dakota.

Di Bari concept artwork shows man and woman standing by cat and dog panel.

Artist concept drawing of "Sun Shelter" sculpture for the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley. 

The two projects are tentatively slated to be installed in the next few months. I am excited to see the finished artwork being placed in the location for which it was designed - that is the best phase of commissioned art projects for me. This is when the concept finally comes to life, this is when it gets real. 

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends, and all things public art. Please send comments and ideas for future blogs to [email protected].

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Dec 20

Collateral Benefits

Posted on December 20, 2022 at 1:23 PM by Ceci Vasconcellos

It’s one thing to acquire new public art for the city, which is always fun; it’s another thing to take care of that new art so it last for years to come. Maintenance is factored into every art acquisition we make, including public art acquired years ago. However, funding for maintenance is not currently a dedicated allocation in the annual budget, therefore, we rely on other methods to get it done. 

Fortunately, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department provides some of the maintenance on pieces located in City parks, and sometimes incorporates additional art maintenance projects into its other programming such as Keep Las Cruces Beautiful (KLCB). This year, KLCB applied for and was awarded a New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) grant for a project called “Empowering Youth through Art Cultivation & Community Forestry”. The six-month long grant project “aims to engage 15 youth between the ages of 14 and 25 in the beautification of their community through the cultivation of art and nature.” 

YCC Team pose in entrance of Trivez Trail Tunnel

YCC mural project crew working on Triviz Trail tunnel in 2020

The KLBC’s art focus will be on restoring several prominent, aging, and faded murals, which the Las Cruces Public Art (LCPA) program had previously earmarked as priority maintenance projects when funding became available. With an artist acting as the crew leader, the youth will learn by doing the restoration work on the designated murals (which are not under contract to any one artist or team by the way). Participants are not necessarily artists or interested in art related careers but will gain experience working in a creative environment while still learning career skills that can be applied to any field. Youth who are interested in art as a career will gain invaluable experience that could lead to future employment. 

Blank wall in Trivez Trail shows primed wall in first phase of mural. Trivez tunnel wall with borders painted in.

2020 YCC Project: Triviz Trail tunnel prepped for mural which replaced the graffiti covered walls. 

What the youth may not realize is, what they accomplish during the short time they participate in the YCC project will make a significant impact on the maintenance goals of the LCPA program, which are to provide regular and consistent maintenance to the Las Cruces Public Art Collection, restore damaged or aging artwork, or to replace art pieces that are beyond repair. 

Mural Team member bends to dip paint brush in can of paint in front of mural wall.

2020 YCC Mural Project: Crew member at work.

Murals on both walls of multi-use trail going through under pass Triviz Trail

2020 YCC Mural Project: Completed Triviz Trail tunnel 

We appreciate that YCC understands the importance of supporting creative economy projects. We appreciate that City departments like Parks & Rec and programs like KLCB believe in public art as a means of beautification. Mostly, we appreciate the benefits that come to LCPA when others join forces to make art happen. 

For more information about the YCC project, please contact the Parks & Recreation Department at 575/541-2000. 

Rubber Ducks blog is brought to you by the Las Cruces Public Art program to share ideas, information, discussions, trends, and all things public art. Please send comments and ideas for future blogs to [email protected].

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