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A fresh view of fresco offered

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Frederico Vigil, who painted the torreón at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, stands in front of a digital version of his work. The NHCC is presenting the digital version to the public. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Frederico Vigil, who painted the torreón at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, stands in front of a digital version of his work. The NHCC is presenting the digital version to the public. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Not many people have had a bird’s-eye view of the oculus of the fresco at the National Hispanic Cultural Center like artist Frederico Vigil has.

That soon will change.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center and ARTS Lab at the University of New Mexico have been working for nearly two years on digitizing the fresco.

The two entities are presenting the fresco at the planetarium at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

For the first time, visitors will be able to view the entire fresco with an up-close look – just like Vigil had for nearly a decade while he was painting it.

“I’m giving up all my secrets,” Vigil said with a laugh. “It’s a great opportunity for more people to see and understand the work that went into this fresco.”

Fresco is a technique of mural painting executed upon freshly laid lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the pigment and, with the setting of the plaster, the painting becomes an integral part of the wall. The fresco was unveiled at the NHCC in late 2010.

Rebecca L. Avitia, executive director of the NHCC, said the digitization was completed before she joined the center in February and she has been looking for ways to present it to the public. Avitia worked with Vigil to capture 32 hours of footage that will accompany the presentation.

“We went through the entire fresco and Frederico speaks to everything he painted,” Avitia said. “There’s a science to it all.”

Avitia said the only other fresco in the world that is digitized is at the Sistine Chapel in Italy.

Currently the NHCC fresco is being presented at the museum’s planetarium as part of its education series. Avitia said it’s being presented in two parts – the science of digitizing the fresco and the science of making a fresco.

Vigil said it’s exciting to educate the public on how a fresco is made because there are so many layers to getting it all right.

“The pigments have to be the same,” he said. “It’s important for the temperature to be perfect. Everything has a place when putting a fresco together.”

Vigil said the only way the public has had a chance to view the fresco in the torreón at the NHCC is through an angle.

“An angle changes perception to what you are actually viewing,” he said. “With the fresco being digitized, each person can view it at eye level and it changes the perception by bringing you face-to-face with the fresco.”

Avitia said the digitization was paid for with a grant – which was just under $50,000 – from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The second phase of the project is making it mobile.

“We want to be able to take the fresco to everyone,” she said. “This is a huge piece of the center, and we’d like more people to see it.”

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