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Discovering hidden gems at the National Hispanic Cultural Center

Editor’s note: Beginning today, and continuing the third Sunday of each month, Journal Arts Editor Adrian Gomez tells the stories behind some of the hidden gems you can see at museums across the state in “Gimme Five.”

Museums. Each is full of relics from the past that highlight a morsel of history.

Entering a museum can send one into a visual overload.

As visitors, we often tend to concentrate on what is put in front of us, thus passing by many other items of interest.

In less than 20 years, the permanent collection of the National Hispanic Cultural Center has steadily grown – all without a big acquisitions budget.

The NHCC relies on donations to its permanent collection as well as monetary donations for its budget.

The curatorial team often delves deep into the center’s collection to put together exhibitions that tell a piece of Hispanic culture.

The NHCC is in the heart of Barelas, at Fourth and Avenida César Chávez, and is home to hundreds of pieces that help tell the Hispanic story.

NHCC Visual Arts Director Tey Marianna Nunn leads a staff in creating exhibits.

Although it’s not wise to choose favorites, Nunn was willing to highlight five pieces in the permanent collection that are hidden gems – mostly in plain view.

Slice of American Pie

“Slice of American Pie” by Luis Tapia is on permanent display at the National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum. The piece was acquired in 2016. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Santa Fe-based artist Luis Tapia’s “Slice of American Pie” is a white 1963 Cadillac lowrider – and it’s cut in half.

“We tried for six years to get a piece from Luis Tapia,” says NHCC Visual Arts Director Tey Marianna Nunn. “To be able to get that piece from one of the foremost Chicano artists in New Mexico. He’s been underrecognized for so long.”

Tapia is best known for his work in the Spanish Colonial style of santos, and the Cadillac piece is a departure for him and found a home at the NHCC in 2016.

“He bought the Cadillac, sliced it in half and thought, ‘What am I going to do?,’ ” Nunn says. “In the piece, he’s referencing santero art, paño art and tattoo art. You have to study the work to see all the nuances. He creates this sense of place that is home for a lot of us.”

Tamale Man

“Tamale Man Action Figure and Box” by Eric J. Garcia. The piece was acquired by the NHCC in 2016 and is one of the hundreds of items in the museum’s permanent collection. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

In 2016, “Tamale Man” found its home at the NHCC.

The superhero character was created by Eric J. Garcia out of Styrofoam (pink insulation) and acrylic paint.

Garcia grew up in the South Valley and went to school at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“He created ‘Tamale Man’ because there weren’t Latino superheroes,” Nunn says. “It’s one of our most popular pieces. It’s a critical commentary on who our superheroes are and just the fact that he felt the need to create a Latino superhero, that speaks volumes.”

Garcia also has a number of murals around Albuquerque.

The museum acquired the piece from Garcia and sells Tamale Man T-shirts and stickers.

“He traded two pieces for a discount on the rental to help with having his wedding at the NHCC,” Nunn says.

“Virgin of Guadalupe – Magic Etch-a-Sketch”

Steve Hanks’ “Guadalupe Magic Etch-A-Sketch.”

With the “Virgin of Guadalupe – Magic Etch-a-Sketch,” by Steve Hanks, there can be a lot of head scratching.

Acquired in 2002, it is part of the Schlenker collection, which contained over 100 objects with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Nunn says.

The image is drawn onto an Etch-a-Sketch, a mechanical drawing toy that has a thick, flat gray screen in a red plastic frame. There are two white knobs on the front of the box that, when turned, draw on the screen. If the box is shaken, the picture will disappear.

“This is one we like to show on collection tours,” Nunn says. “We like to tease people with it because they think that if we shake it, it will disappear. We don’t tell them it’s glued. From the museum perspective, we have to figure out how to preserve the glue.”

Nunn has learned of an artist in Santa Fe in the 1980s and ’90s who showed Etch-a-Sketch art in a gallery. She is trying to track down the artist.

“Guadalupe’s ‘Chooe’ Shoe”

Goldie Garcia’s “Guadalupe’s ‘Chooe’ Shoe” from 2004 is made from paper, glitter, sequins, beads, tin, rhinestones, fabric and resin on a leather shoe.

Staying with the topic of Virgin of Guadalupe is Goldie Garcia’s “Guadalupe’s ‘Chooe’ Shoe.”

The piece is a gift from the artist and is made of paper, glitter, sequins, beads, tin, rhinestones, fabric and resin on a leather shoe.

Garcia is an artist and comedian from Albuquerque who is known for her bottle cap art.

“What people don’t realize is that Goldie hand-places the major components to her compositions,” Nunn says. “She composes each piece, which makes them so extraordinary. It’s also cool to know that Guadalupe has beautiful shoes.

Mexican piñata

A Mexican piñata from the 1920s is one of the NHCC’s latest additions to the permanent collection. It is made of papel de chine, newsprint, clay pot and ceramic head.

One of the newest additions to the NHCC collection found its home in 2018 – it’s a piñata.

The Mexican piece was created in the 1920s or ’30s, and its maker is unknown.

Finding it was serendipitous.

“It was found by one of the curators in an antique store in Santa Fe,” Nunn says. “We were thinking of doing a piñata show because they are ephemeral. Not many antique ones exist because piñatas, of course, are supposed to be smashed.”

Sitting in the antique store was this piece, made out of papel de chine, newsprint, clay pot and ceramic head.

“It’s made out of the jarro,” Nunn says. “It is probably one of the oldest piñatas in any museum collection. This also poses a special set of circumstances: How do you keep this ephemeral thing from disintegrating?”

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