July 2017

Gallery Talk

by Myrna Zanetell

Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns

New museum director emphasizes education


Whether a newcomer or longtime resident, most residents in and around the border of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez recognize the name Tom Lea. As a muralist, illustrator, historian, novelist, World War II correspondent, and studio painter, Lea left behind a legacy of works that celebrated his love for friends and The El Paso Museum of Art welcomed Victoria Ramirez as its new director on Jan. 23. Currently well on her way to completing her first half-year on the job, Ramirez shares that she is highly impressed by the quality of the museum and its staff, and that she is looking forward to making the EPMA an even greater presence here in the Borderland.
Before coming to El Paso, Ramirez served as the director and deputy director of the Bullock Museum in Austin. During her tenure there, she launched the Texas Story Project. Designed to bring a broader audience to the museum, this unique initiative played a major role in the 40 percent increase in museum exhibition revenues.
She also served as education director for the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and education curator at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia, where her use of technology won her awards from the American Alliance for Museums.
Because education is very important to Ramirez, she was especially pleased by EPMA’s school program already in place.
“Building on our existing schedules, we are eager to open up the classes to an even wider range of people. Often times when the people come to the museum to see art, it motivates them to want to create art of their own. Our museum school is really the ‘art making wing’ of our institution and throughout the year we offer an extensive variety of classes, which include ceramics, painting, jewelry-making and occasionally printmaking. These are offered on both the adult level and for children, and we are gearing up for summer camp program, which will begin in July.
“These classes offer a truly unique learning experience. Not only do you have the beautifully equipped studio spaces, but we also have all the works that are on view in the galleries to turn to for inspiration. We try to hire as many local artists as possible. Our criteria in hiring are that the candidates not only have a mastery of both materials and techniques, but it is especially important that they know how to teach. What we have found is that being exposed to the right techniques and the use of high quality materials, nine times out of ten those who take classes are surprised by their own creative ability.”
Ramirez emphasized her role as a museum educator in what she hopes to build at EPMA. “The advantage is that it gives you a broad understanding of art and art history, but even more importantly how people respond to these topics. One of the things I can bring to the table is the ability not only to choose future exhibitions from a scholarly perspective, but also evaluating how they will appeal to the public. We want make sure that the exhibition schedule we develop not only appeals to a broad audience but also to introduce them to new areas that they never knew existed or that they liked.
“For instance, our audience broadens during the months of June through August to include not only travelers, but also clients who bring in family and friends, so our choice of ‘The Color Red’ proved to be especially appropriate for a summer program. People are having a fun time imaging how you can crush a tiny beetle and achieve the color red. Its diversity appealed to those with an interest in art, science and nature, as well as those who were curious about how things were made.
“As we are in the process of developing out exhibition schedules for 2018 and 2019, we seek to strike a balance between the familiar and new experiences. To better utilize our resources, we have hired a firm which will work with our museum staff, the Foundation Board and our select partners to help chart a course that will help us achieve some of our goals. We want to know how to expand and grow what we already have, and look at ways to increase attendance and the relevancy of what we provide to our audience.”
Ramirez cited the fact that the museum currently holds more than 7,000 objects in their permanent collection. Of these, only about three percent are on display at any one time.
“This is about average. These big picture conversations help us to decide how to rotate works to strike a balance between old favorites, new works and those which we have on loan.
“Speaking of rotating works, we have an extensive collection of Tom Lea’s art. We rotate displaying these in the Tom Lea Gallery, and for Tom Lea month (in October), we will be focusing on a selection of his watercolors. Due to the fact that long exposure to light can be damaging, works on paper are generally not on display for long periods of time.
“Additionally, in the fall, we will have an exhibition entitled ‘Garden of Earthly and Unearthly Delights,’ which will be curated from works in our permanent collection. It will be a great time for our audience to come in and see the breadth of our collection. In January 2018, we will have an exhibition of contemporary works entitled ‘Ethics, Excess and Extinction.’ Because it explores topics such as conservation, animal cruelty, and preservation it will provide a very timely conversation about how art can affect our everyday life and what we are ethically responsible for.
“We are also especially excited about the fact that 2018 will be the 5th Border Biennial. Invitations go out to artists on both sides of the 200-mile stretch of the border between Mexico and the U.S., so it is currently the largest border show in the nation. The real focus of this exhibition is to show life in this region as presented by those who live and work along the border.
“The next two seasons have some truly exciting offerings, and my hope is that more people will discover the EPMA, the treasure they have right in their back yard.”

Arts International 50th

In September the El Paso Art Association will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its iconic Arts International exhibition. The international designation in its title underscores the fact that the juried exhibition is open to Borderland artists from Texas, New Mexico and the border region of Mexico.
The exhibition opens Sept. 2 at the International Museum of Art at 1211 Montana. Karla Zanelli, executive director of EPAA and chairperson for Arts International 2017, said she is especially pleased that El Paso’s largest and most renowned art exhibition will return to its original home at the International Museum after showing at a variety of other venues for the past ten years.
“We want this 50th year to be a truly special event,” Zanelli said. “Watch for additional plans to be announced as they are finalized, including background history from the past five decades and the selection of one or more honorary artists.”
Noted local painter Lyuba Titovets will serve as judge. The three-member juror panel, which selects the works for the exhibition, also features accomplished members of the art community: Robert Highsmith, watercolorist; Rosario Ponte, best known for her oil portraits; and Kimberley Rene Vanecheck, owner of the Art Avenue Gallery.
The deadline for artists to enter the show has been extended to Aug. 1.

The Gallery at Susan Eisen

Susan Eisen Jewelry and Gallery, 5857 N. Mesa, is currently featuring an exhibit and sale of original artwork by El Paso native Russell Waterhouse that will run through Aug. 31. Work being showcased is a series of oil paintings from Waterhouse’s personal collection.
Waterhouse, son of C. Ewing Waterhouse, another renowned local painter, was born in El Paso in 1928. He spent most of his career as the art director for the El Paso Natural Gas Company, while painting in his spare time. Following his tenure at EPNG, he later accepted a position as the art director of Tony Lama boots. After his retirement from Tony Lama, he dedicated his life to his painting in both watercolor and oils.
Eisen emphasized that many of the canvases on exhibit at the show have never been shown in public.
“Being able to show the work of talented El Paso artists in my gallery like Russell Waterhouse is a great honor for me. His paintings truly make a significant difference in appreciating the beautiful landscape El Paso has to offer. These select works represent examples of landscapes showcasing the richly colored El Paso sky, the beautiful composition of the mountains, and the colors of the desert so common around El Paso.”

Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts.

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Becoming Bicultural
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