February 2020

Gallery Talk

by Myrna Zanetell

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Jimenez’s ‘Sod Buster’ now at EP Art Museum

Monumental in both size and the dynamic message it conveys, “Sod Buster, San Isidro” is one of Luis Jimenez’s most fascinating sculptures. On loan from its owner, art entrepreneur Russell Tether, this spectacular rendition of a farmer behind a plow hitched to a team of two massive oxen will make its home in the lobby of the El Paso Museum of Art through at least the end of this year.
Commissioned by the City of Fargo, N.D., in 1977 to honor the farmers of the Great Plains, “Sod Buster” represents Jimenez’s first commission for a monumental fiberglass sculpture. Massive in scale — it’s 20 feet long, 6 feet high and 5 feet across —and bold in color, the work replicates the folk art of New Mexico, a tradition which often blends its Catholic heritage with everyday reality.
Jimenez, the famed El Paso-born sculptor who died in 2006, once shared that the sweat beads on the face of the farmer are very much like the drops of blood on Christ’s face during the crucifixion, and the exaggeration of the man’s arms and muscles is consistent with the stylization often seen in folk art. The artist underscored these associations by subtitling the sculpture San Isidro, honoring the Catholic patron saint of farmers.
On a broader scale, however, the sculpture honors the tradition of all farmers, past and present. Tether explains, “Jimenez didn’t just want to represent the current farmers and those of the Dust Bowl period. This becomes apparent when you look at the imagery built into the sides including arrowheads, pottery shards and even grain. These symbols represent the American farmer, the migrant farmer, the Native American farmer; every generation and type of farmer that has worked the Plains. Contemplating the power, the pain, the sweat of the farmer, the piece clearly represents how hard the people worked to put food on the table. If you look at the face of God in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and then compare it to the face of the farmer, you would be quite surprised at the similarity.”
Tether also points out that one ox is purple the other is blue. “Was he representing Babe the Blue Ox and the folklore of that period, or was it just because he liked the color? Possibly the former, but no one really knows.”
The original, which stands in the City Hall Plaza in Fargo, N.D., was completed in 1981. The one on display in El Paso was one of several additional castings, and the one which Jimenez designated as an artist’s proof with a signature engraved into the plow. It initially went to the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, D. C., which later loaned it to the Albuquerque Museum of Art for two years. In 2014 it was sent to Dallas, where it was displayed in the atrium of the Federal Reserve Bank.
Sharing his relationship with the piece Tether explains, “My first business was a courier service in Dallas so I had the opportunity to see it all the time when we picked up material from the Federal Reserve. I knew that it was an extremely important piece, and I felt very fortunate that through my gallery, I was able to acquire it in 2015. Because Dallas was at least 45 percent Mexican American at this time, I felt that it was representative of that culture. In 2016, the Umlauf Museum and Sculpture Garden in Austin contacted me about getting the piece on loan for an exhibition featuring Jimenez’s sculptures.”
“It was on exhibition there for several months, and shortly after it came back to me, David Lundy from the Farm and Ranch Museum in Las Cruces called asking if they could have it on loan for a couple of years. At the time they indicated they also had a desire to acquire it. Ironically, about the time they realized that the State of New Mexico was not going to grant them the funds to buy it, Victoria Ramirez, the former director of the El Paso Museum of Art, approached me about loaning the piece to the EPMA.”
As Head Curator for the El Paso Museum of Art, Kate Green continued the process of bringing this work to the EPMA.
“Because Jimenez’s ‘Vaquero’ was much beloved during the period it was here at the Museum of Art, we are so thrilled to have the opportunity to share another of Jimenez’s monumental sculptures with our audience here on the border,” Green explained. “It is just as quintessential as it heroizes the farm worker and his relationship with the land. Additionally we are fortunate to have not only the sculpture but also two preparatory drawings and an original print.
“Having it here is especially significant knowing how connected this museum is with Jimenez since we have a number of his works in our permanent collection,” she added. “The people of El Paso are also very connected to him as an artist since he lived and worked in a studio only a few miles from here for a number of years.”
Green, whose idea it was to place the sculpture on a platform, explained the significance behind the dramatic staging of the work.
“When Jimenez made plans for the piece to be installed indoors, he also created drawings of the platform that it would sit on. In order to fulfill that plan we built a pedestal specifically to those dimensions. Sitting the sculpture on a pedestal gives the full impact of the power and the strength. It’s larger than life because the subject is larger than life. People are so drawn to viewing the piece that many even want to have their picture with it. The Sod Buster definitely resonates with the public and that is the true purpose behind art.
“This edition of the Sod Buster is also unique in that it is the only one of Jimenez’s large-scale works that has never been displayed outside or been exposed to unfiltered light. This is important because the elements and the sun damage the surface and cause the colors to fade. Because they were originally painted with sign and automotive paint, and then later finished with automotive clear coat eventually all of the Jimenez sculptures will need to be refurbished. Our own ‘Los Lagartos,’ the alligator sculpture which is on display in the Plaza, has just recently returned from being refinished.”
Tether, the sculpture’s owner, related that recently the piece’s move to this region has taken on a personal significance.
“When I came to Las Cruces to assist with the installation of the piece at the Farm and Ranch Museum, I was fortunate to meet my fiancée, Michelle. I am currently in the process of moving from Dallas to Las Cruces, thus within a few months I will be close to both things that are dear to my heart.”

Chaco pottery exhibit

The El Paso Museum of Archaeology is now hosting two exciting events showcasing the pottery and potters of the Chaco region. The first, an exhibition entitled “From the Edge to the Center: The Chacoan Outliers,” opened Jan. 25 and runs through Sept. 5. Presented in cooperation with the Salmon Ruins and the San Juan County Museum Association of Northwestern New Mexico, this exhibition features a selection of items from the El Paso museum’s permanent collection in addition to pieces on loan from the Salmon Ruins. Objects include ceramic vessels, sandals, beads, pendants, miniature effigies and other perishable materials.
Archeology Museum Director Jeff Romney shared, “The Chacoan Culture, which flourished between AD 860 and 1150, was originally centered at Chaco Canyon in Northwestern New Mexico. Although the Chacoan Culture was centered within the canyon, its influence extended throughout the San Juan Basin to the north and the Zuni Mountains to the South. Outlying great houses that share many of the same features as those in Chaco Canyon can be found here, although they are generally on a smaller scale. ‘Great houses’ and kivas have also been found at the Aztec and Salmon Ruins, both dating to the mid-12th and early 13th centuries.
Much of the Ancestral Puebloan Culture (formerly referred to as Anasazi) has its roots in the Chacoan traditions. Among these are the Acoma people, who maintained black-on-white pottery traditions as did the early Chacoan people. As a complement to the Chacoan exhibition, two renowned potters from Acoma, Dolores Lewis-Garcia and Claudia Mitchell, will give a lecture and demonstration of this tradition Feb. 22.
Lewis-Garcia has been around great pottery artists her whole life, but her greatest inspiration came from her late mother, the world-renowned potter Lucy M. Lewis. She gathers her own natural pigments and clays from the clay pits within the Acoma Pueblo, cleans her clay for impurities by hand, then she mixes, coils and paints by hand. She uses a traditional firing method to add the finishing touch to her masterpieces. The Lewis family keeps keep alive traditions of the ancient Mimbres people, including designs such as the deer with a heart line and lightning bolt pattern.
Dolores’ niece, Claudia Mitchell, is the granddaughter of Acoma matriarch Lucy Lewis, who was the driving force behind the revival of pottery making as an art in the Pueblo of the Acoma.

Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts

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