Depicting the Papacy in Late Baroque Rome

Recently the Museum unveiled a small exhibition comprising just two works of art: Pier Leone Ghezzi’s monumental painting of a provincial synod (ecclesiastical council) convoked by Pope Benedict XIII Orsini in the cathedral of Rome during the Jubilee of 1725, and a sumptuous bronze medallion with profile portrait of Pope Clement X Altieri (pope 1670–76), newly reattributed to the great baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. These works from the permanent collection are on view in West Building for the first time.

Pier Leone Ghezzi, Benedict XIII Presiding over the Provincial Roman Synod of 1725, Basilica of St. John Lateran, circa 1725, oil on canvas, 95 7/8 x 122 1/2 in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Pope Clement X Altieri, circa 1670–76, bronze, Diam. 11 in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

Where can you find this mini exhibition?

Enter West Building, make a left, amble through the Classical Court to the Rodin Court. Meander to the left, passing between the Burghers of Calais and Balzac; then duck into European Art 17th to 19th Centuries/French and American Impressionism. Pause to look at Mary Cassatt’s alluring Portrait of Madame X Dressed for the Matinée—a recent acquisition—and then proceed to the end of the building, where you will arrive at the focus gallery next to Judaic Art. You cannot miss the installation, dominated by Ghezzi’s enormous canvas. This representation of the 1725 Council reads like a window into pontifical ceremony and politics as well as Catholic hierarchy of the early 18th century. It also provides a glimpse inside Rome’s oldest church, the archbasilica of St. John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano; founded by the Roman emperor Constantine I around 315) as it appeared after a century of renovations.

Pier Leone Ghezzi, Père Conti of the French Mission, circa 1722, pen and brown ink, 16 1/4 x 10 15/16 in., Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The William A. Whitaker Foundation Art Fund, 80.23.1

Pier Leone Ghezzi was one of Rome’s most distinguished painters of the 18th century. His patrons included popes, cardinals, and other members of elite European society, who prized his ability to create lifelike portraits and religious and history paintings. Today he is best known for the thousands of pen-and-ink caricatures he made of Romans and visiting foreigners. While serving as painter for the Apostolic Camera, Ghezzi was commissioned to document the Jubilee-year conference organized by Benedict XIII. In the resulting painting, he created both a narrative scene and a meticulously observed overhead view of a church interior, an early example of the “veduta” genre popularized in Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini and collected by contemporary Grand Tourists.

Pier Leone Ghezzi, Antonio Vivaldi, Maffeo Niccolò Farsetti, Protonotary Apostolic, and Niccolò Casoni, Procurator, circa 1723, pen and brown ink on paper, Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ott. lat. 3114, fol. 26. Known in his day as il Cavaliere delle Caricature, Ghezzi made humorous pen sketches of luminaries who passed through Rome. Among these was the Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi (left), depicted on a sheet with two prelates who participated in the 1725 Council. Ghezzi’s caption identifies the virtuoso by his nickname, il Prete Rosso: “the Red-Haired Priest … who wrote the 1723 opera (Ercole sul Termodonte) at the Teatro Capranica.”

When the synod opened on the second Sunday after Easter, the pope, cardinals, archbishops and bishops, procurators, abbots, and select priests from the diocese of Rome assembled in the nave of the Lateran along with the ministers of the Council, members of the pontifical court, canons, priests, deacons, theologians, magistrates, and other prelates, according to a prescribed seating arrangement.

Ghezzi’s representation of a meeting in progress corresponds to surviving diary accounts and official histories. These include a floor plan of the nave as it was carpeted, furnished, and festooned for the conference. In the NCMA’s painting, Pope Benedict is shown as a tiny figure at the center of the canvas (you may have to stand on your toes to see him clearly). He is seated between two cardinal-bishop assistants at the presidential table elevated in front of the papal altar. The speaker of the moment seems to be the Council secretary, Francesco Antonio Fini, who stands at a tapestry-draped pulpit halfway up the theater on the right. He was responsible for reading the decrees passed by the Council. Diary accounts indicate that Fini’s speech was difficult to hear; however, in Ghezzi’s narrative, the secretary appears to be communicating directly with some of the cardinals seated behind him, who respond with quizzical looks and gestures.

On the other hand, many of the ecclesiastics seated along the last two pews running parallel to the lower edge of the frame converse with one another or look away from the papal table. What is important is that Ghezzi focuses—somewhat irreverently—on the peripheral characters and actions rather than on the central ones. This is the painter’s way of animating his narrative in order to engage the viewer. Notice the Swiss guard at the far right chasing away two stray dogs with his halberd, and the caricaturesque clergyman in the back row who hangs over the partition, gabbing with a group of men outside the enclosure.

See also the prelate wearing multiple preaching bands seated at the entrance to the enclosure, who gazes at the viewer. Surely this is a representation of an actual person.

The artist’s habit of including self-portraits in his large narrative paintings is on display in the immediate foreground, too: Cavalier Ghezzi, wearing a red court suit à la française, is shown in profile conversing with a prelate who has been identified as Niccolo’ Maria Lercari, Benedict’s high chamberlain and later cardinal secretary of state. At the the time of the Council, Lercari supervised all Apostolic-palace and personal papal matters, including the patronage of art, and he was the prelate who engaged Ghezzi to portray the Council.

According to a contemporary source, Lercari commissioned four more canvases to accompany Ghezzi’s work, only one of which can be traced at present, Giovanni Odazzi’s view of the exterior of the Lateran Palace and church, also at the NCMA. In a later post I’ll discuss the fate of the Ghezzi and Odazzi in the two centuries between Benedict’s death (1730) and their acquisition by the NCMA (1952).

Giovanni Odazzi, Benedict XIII in Procession at the Basilica of St. John Lateran on 28 April 1726, circa 1726, oil on canvas, 96 1/8 x 122 5/8 in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

The Ghezzi should hold your attention for a while, but don’t forget to look at the adjacent bronze medallion. This single-sided relief merits close examination because of its high artistic quality and material beauty. What is more, it is a rediscovered cast, virtually known to scholars, of a famous papal medallion executed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The Ghezzi painting was last on view in East Building in 2010, prior to the reinstallation of the European collection in West Building. The medallion, on the other hand, has never before been exhibited on Blue Ridge Road and is largely unknown to scholars. Therefore, we present both works with great excitement and hope that many visitors will have a chance to study and enjoy them.

The exhibition runs through early 2015. Lyle Humphrey is GlaxoSmithKline curatorial fellow at the NCMA.

See more: Zoom in on a high-resolution image of Ghezzi’s painting hosted by Google Art Project.

Motherwell’s Mistakes

The Checkered Skirt—recently back on view in the Museum’s Modern and Contemporary galleries—belongs to a group of abstract figure paintings that Robert Motherwell created in the late 1940s through a deliberate process of trial and error. The artist would begin a painting without any preconceived idea of what the final composition should look like and would build up the surface as he continued to revise and edit the picture. Describing this process, Motherwell wrote, “I begin painting with a series of mistakes. The painting comes out of the correction of mistakes by feeling . . . The final picture is the process arrested at the moment when what I was looking for flashes into view.”

This painting was first shown at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in March 1948 with the title The Checkered Skirt. However, Motherwell would often continue to work on a picture after it was exhibited. Recent scholarship suggests that the NCMA’s painting may have been shown two months later at the Kootz Gallery, but retitled (and reworked?) as Young Girl.

Photograph from the Robert Motherwell card file index at the Dedalus Foundation Archives

“Young Girl” is written on the back of the NCMA’s painting, though it does not appear to be in the artist’s handwriting. Motherwell’s archive includes a photograph of a painting titled Young Girl from 1947 (now unlocated). This prompted the question: Could this missing Motherwell be hiding under the NCMA’s painting?

To answer this question, the Museum’s conservators X-rayed our painting to see if another composition was hiding underneath. Though we did not find Young Girl, we did gain insight into how the artist developed his composition.

Motherwell wrote, “My pictures have layers of mistakes buried in them—an X-ray would disclose crimes—layers of consciousness, of willing.” The layers buried under the surface of The Checkered Skirt show a process based on chance and intuition—what Motherwell would have called “quickened subjectivity.” Innumerable visions and revisions lead to a climactic “Eureka!” moment.

The X-ray reveals that the artist began with three rounded shapes. He continued to add abstract figural elements, or trim them by masking areas under the white overpaint (a bit like covering errors with Wite-Out.) A photograph of the painting under UV light shows that the artist covered over crescent shapes around the torso (perhaps arms?). Some of the major changes to The Checkered Skirt are still visible to the naked eye. Motherwell raised the figure’s head and shoulders and replaced rounded hips with an angular, houselike shape. The pigtailed silhouette in the final composition is built of precariously balanced elements.

After seeing Motherwell’s show at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in 1948, critic Clement Greenberg wrote that Young Girl was one of the most successful paintings in the exhibition, noting that the artist’s work is best when “architectural simplicity conceals toil and care.”

Robert Motherwell, The Checkered Skirt (The Young Girl), 1947, oil on fiberboard, 48 7/8 x 21 5/8 inches, Gift of the Olsen Foundation, 1958 (58.21.1). Shown under X-ray, ultraviolet light (UV), and natural light.

The NCMA’s analysis of The Checkered Skirt may not have found Young Girl hiding underneath, but it did reveal the time, labor, and consideration that went into building a seemingly effortless composition. I appreciate The Checkered Skirt more now that I’ve seen Motherwell’s mistakes. The mistakes show the care that went into crafting the final painting.

Laura Fravel is the Goodnight/Mellon curatorial research assistant at the NCMA. See her complete article with footnotes here.

Museum Celebrates 20 Years with Larry Wheeler

Photo: Nick Pironio

The NCMA is celebrating Larry Wheeler’s 20th anniversary as director. This is an excerpt from the letter he sent to Museum staff today:

Good morning. Twenty years ago today, October 1, I entered the Museum as director. As our program has grown to meet expanding public expectations, so has the scale of the NCMA. The staff has doubled, the operating budget has more than tripled—to around $18 million today—and the campus has grown from 174,000 square feet of space to more than 300,000 square feet with the addition of the new building. We now occupy (certifiably) 164 acres of land, much of which is our Museum Park, ever changing. We typically serve 350,000 visitors a year, not counting the 150,000 visitors to the Park and the 123,000 who participate in our education offerings, many of which are offsite. In the Monet and Rodin years, attendance soared to 443,000 and 475,000 respectively. We have grown and are growing. A new strategic plan will open new possibilities for us to serve the public in more relevant ways.

I reflect on two conversations that shaped these two decades of my tenure. Chief curator John Coffey came to see me two weeks after I began and asked what I wanted to buy. We talked possibilities but agreed that Anselm Kiefer would be a high-profile and unexpected acquisition—if such a rare opportunity should emerge. One week later it did, when Christie’s offered the untitled triptych from the Gerald Elliott collection. With no formal process for going to auction, we jerry-rigged one with the participation of Senator Terry Sanford, chairman of the Board, and the Board’s Acquisitions Committee. I went to New York in early November and successfully acquired the painting. It made big news in the art world and generated much curiosity at home. In that moment the NCMA declared its commitment to the great artistic achievements of our time, a commitment that continues to this day.

Anselm Kiefer, Untitled, 1980–86, oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac, lead, charcoal, and straw on photograph, mounted on canvas; with stones, lead, and steel cable; in three parts, Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, W. R. Valentiner, and various donors, by exchange

The second conversation was with Dan Gottlieb, director of planning. He indicated that he thought we would be a good team in imagining and executing the plan for an art park, already in the works for a couple of years by then. I said yes, of course, and off we went to build the Park Theater and begin the infrastructure for the Park. Twenty years and more than $100 million later, we are still at it. The new West Building designed by Thomas Phifer is without question the great hallmark of my directorship, and the process of doing it was the most creative experience of my life.

Recently I came across an interview with me at the outset. The questioner probed as to how I would measure my success. I answered, making the great art collection that belonged to the people yet more significant and more meaningful to more lives. And on we go.

I thank each of you who bring your genius to the Museum every day. Look around you and see the difference you make. I am grateful for your partnership.

With highest regard,

Larry

The Story behind Harpo’s Benton

A few months back I spoke to Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx, about his father’s purchase of Thomas Hart Benton’s Spring on the Missouri (1946). Bill let me know about a sketch for the painting—previously unknown to scholars—that the artist had sent his father. This past December, with the generous help of NCMA Trustee Jim Becher and his wife, Betty, the Museum was able to purchase the drawing at auction.

Benton made the sketch in early 1937 when the Mississippi and St. Francis rivers flooded a wide region of southeastern Missouri. The Kansas City Star had sent him to chronicle the natural disaster. The artist sent back ink sketches, six of which were featured in the newspaper’s Sunday edition under the headline, “The Great Flood in Missouri As Seen And Recorded By Thomas Hart Benton.” The short accompanying article noted that Benton had recorded an important chapter in the state’s history, and connected his reportorial work with the controversial social history murals that he had recently completed for the Missouri State Capitol. After completing his assignment for the newspaper, Benton chose to stay in the flood-devastated region and continued to document the effect that the disaster had on people living in the area. It is likely that the sketch for Spring on the Missouri, which did not appear in the newspaper, was created at this time.

The artist wrote about his experience of the flood in his autobiography, An Artist in America, which was published later that year. He noted that “descriptions can give no sense of the dread realities of flood misery—the cold mud, the lost goods, the homeless animals, the dreary standing around of destitute people.” He continued:

The roads of the flood country were full of movers. Wagons, trucks, and Model T Fords loaded with household goods, beds, stoves, etc., even chicken coops full of chickens, even with pigs, wandered slowly away from the waters. Lord knows where they were going. Every once in a while seepage from under the levee would force evacuation of a house and you would see a great struggle to get animals and goods out of the rising water. (Thomas Hart Benton, An Artist in America, New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, 1937, pp. 146–47)

In 1946—nine years after the flood—Benton’s returned to his sketch of one such panicking family and developed the composition into the painting he titled Spring on the Missouri.

Spring on the Missouri above the fireplace at Harpo Marx’s home in Rancho Mirage, California. Photo courtesy of Bill Marx. http://www.harposplace.com/Family/FamilyPhoto7.php

That same year, the painting was featured in an exhibition at the Associated American Artists gallery in Chicago, where it was bought by none other than Arthur “Harpo” Marx, the silent member of the Marx Brothers. Like many Hollywood celebrities, Marx collected paintings by living American artists. Spring on the Missouri was possibly the most important painting in his collection. It hung prominently above the fireplace at the actor’s home in Rancho Mirage, California. Probably at the time of the painting’s sale, Benton gave Marx the drawing, adding the inscription, “This note made in the great 1937 floods in Missouri was the original idea for your picture.” (The artist often referred to his sketches as “notes,” viewing them as records of the events he witnessed.)

This “note” provides context for the painting and highlights the artist’s role as a reporter. Benton made few changes in developing his sketch into a finished composition.

Left: Thomas Hart Benton, Study for “Spring on the Missouri,” 1937, pen and ink and sepia wash over graphite on paper, 8 13/16 x 12 in., Gift of Jim and Betty Becher, 2013; Right: Thomas Hart Benton, Spring on the Missouri, 1945, oil and tempera on Masonite panel, 30 ¼ x 40 ¼ in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, 1977

He clearly preferred to adhere to the facts of the scene he had observed firsthand. However, to better frame the composition, he added a shed and a washtub in the right foreground. He also included a second figure loading the wagon. The lightning bolt in the background adds a sense of urgency to the unfolding tragedy. Without the drawing, we would have no evidence of Benton’s faithfulness as a reporter or his theatrical reimagining of the narrative.

Laura Fravel is the Goodnight/Mellon curatorial research assistant at the NCMA.

Inspiring Teens across North Carolina

This summer marks the fifth annual Teens, Inspired exhibition at the NCMA. For eight months two high school students from our Teen Arts Council, Jennifer Fulton and Ariel Mirett, have gone behind the scenes to market, jury, curate, and prepare the exhibition. Here they reflect on the experience.

Teens are on a journey to discover truth and meaning while being Brooke- Teens Inspired Artistinfluenced by a variety of forces. Museums can inspire us to learn about ourselves through art.

The NCMA asked teens throughout the state to express themselves using their own interpretations of the Museum’s collection. As high school interns, we collaborated with Museum staff to select 28 two- and three-dimensional works and four videos for this exhibition, from more than 100 submissions. Using sculpture, animation, pencil, paint, and other media, students explored themes such as interconnectivity, technology, and generational perceptions that connect their work to the work that inspired it. Whether focused on the hold that technology has over society or the simplicity of a child’s excitement on a winter day, these works express what is on the minds of teens.

See the exhibition yourself through October 19, 2014, in the education wing of East Building. Visit our blog, teens-inspired.org, to see all of the submissions, receive updates for next year’s competition, and discover new ways the Museum inspires teens.

This project is funded with support from the Mebane Foundation and the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Letter from Berlin, Part 1

Indian Fantasy

Indian Fantasy, Marsden Hartley’s ecstatic dream of a Native American paradise and one of the glories of the Museum’s modern collection, is 100 years old this summer. Unfortunately, the party will have to be held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the painting is featured in a brilliant exhibition, Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings, 1913–1915. The exhibition was organized by the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in collaboration with LACMA. I was fortunate to be in Berlin in late June for the last days of the show at the Neue Nationalgalerie.

Believe it or not, though regarded on this side of the Atlantic as perhaps the greatest of this country’s modernist pioneers, Hartley is virtually unknown in Europe. This even though many of his most powerful and inventive paintings were created during two and a half years spent on and off in Berlin (1913–15). In the German capital, Hartley first found his voice as an American artist. He reveled both in the dynamism of the metropolis and in the parading pageantry of the Kaiser’s army, everywhere on show in the days leading up to and after the outbreak of World War I. Berlin intoxicated Hartley, but he was ever aware of himself as a foreigner. (I cannot imagine Hartley declaring, “Ich bin ein Berliner!”). Hartley’s status as an outsider jolted his ambition, liberating his imagination toward new ways of picturing the intensity of his inner life. That was the main takeaway of the exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie.

Marsden Hartley: Die deutschen Bilder, 1913–1915, was the first major exhibition devoted to Hartley’s art in Europe since 1961. By all accounts it was a revelation to the German public. Among the first-magnitude stars of the exhibition was our own Indian Fantasy, arguably the finest, certainly the boldest, painting of a series employing Native American themes and symbols and executed in the fateful summer of 1914. For me it is always a surprise, not always pleasant, to see one of our paintings in a different context. Happily the curator in Berlin treated Indian Fantasy as the centerpiece of a gallery, flanking it with two other paintings of the series. Surrounded by works dating from the same extraordinary moment in Hartley’s career, I was able to see the artist building a new vocabulary of forms and symbols, testing structures and color combinations, abandoning some ideas while elaborating on others. He was reaching for something, radiant and profoundly hopeful, while outside his studio window, the Guns of August flared and the world went mad.

Early Nights at the Movies

With our outdoor movie series coming up on its 25th anniversary, and with the welcome introduction of our digital projection system this summer, we thought readers might like to know about the NCMA’s role in pioneering outdoor cinema in the Triangle. Joseph Covington, former director of the Museum’s Education Department and visionary implementer of the series, takes a look back.

The Museum Park Theater’s new digital projection equipment was hardly imaginable when we screened the first outdoor movies in the summer of 1988. They started as an experiment related to the planning for a hoped-for-someday outdoor theater complex that would include a screen and projection booth. The team of artist, landscape designer, and architects planning the theater wanted to know what the response might be, so we moved our movie series outdoors for one month.

A staff member knew of a large white canvas stored away somewhere, so we only had to work out how to frame it and haul it up against a wall of the Museum. It was weighted at the bottom with a heavy metal pipe to keep it straight. Projection was in the form of an old portable 16 mm projector installed in a van, projecting through the open doors. The sound had to run by cable from the van to speakers below the screen. It was a primitive arrangement, but we thought it would work.

For the program, that month in 1988, we observed an anniversary of the Warner Bros. Studio—I think it was the 65th. (We didn’t program outdoors again for a couple of years, if memory serves.) Among the four films was the Errol Flynn swashbuckler Captain Blood. Just as the pirate ship stormed onto the scene, a genuine wind caught the screen and lifted it into the air. That metal pipe banged against glass doors behind it, giving those of us responsible for the jury-rigging a tense evening.

When outdoor films returned, it was with what seemed like the luxurious provision of a real perforated silver screen on a tightly engineered steel frame securely attached to the exterior of the Museum. It had been saved from one of the neighborhood theaters that closed, and redesigned by theater entrepreneur Bill Peebles.

Before the stage for live performances existed, movies were all we had for several years to animate the grounds. Eventually we expanded to every Friday and Saturday night from June through September. Audience size varied, but for repeat favorites such as Creature from the Black Lagoon, with the old red and blue 3-D glasses, we could count on a huge turnout.

The audience and the venue were proven, and the long run of outdoor movies since the Joseph M. Bryan, Jr., Theater opened has grown into a tradition.

Plan a night at the Museum and check out the full list of 2014 summer movies. Get the latest news about summer movies and concerts by signing up for our email list.

A Clear Look at Ancient Glass

In September I invited Janet Jones to come take a look at the ancient glass vessels in the NCMA’s holdings. Dr. Jones is a professor at Bucknell University, a graduate of the UNC–Chapel Hill, an archaeologist, and—more important—an expert on ancient glass.

Janet Jones at work in the NCMA Conservation lab

Janet closely examined the all the vessels in our collection, those we normally have on view in the galleries as well as those in storage. Her investigation revealed a few Islamic vessels, notably a Mamluk/Ottoman kohl vessel dating to the 17th–18th century. This vessel (92.7.22) is currently listed in our files as “long flask with flanged neck, dated to the 4th–5th century, or as late as 12th century.” Evidently, this file will need to be revised.

92.7.22

Two of the vessels listed as glass turned out to be very fine ceramics. When Janet came across them, she called me over to look. As an Egyptologist and having worked exclusively on the Egyptian collection until I became curator of ancient art in 2011, I had not had the opportunity to look at the majority of our glass objects before. Fewer than a handful of them are said to have been discovered in Egypt, and of the few we have—you can see them in our Egyptian galleries—two were imported from elsewhere in the Mediterranean, and the third is actually Islamic. (Those are the only glass vessels I had studied previously.) As soon as I saw the two Janet pointed out, I agreed with her: ceramic, not glass.

Also, one unguentarium (vessel for ointment) is a pastiche—a composite made from two different ancient fragments (92.7.13). Take a closer look at the picture: can you see the two different fragments? The body and neck of the vessel are transparent blue-green with the iridescence indicative of glass disease, but the rim is transparent colorless glass.

92.7.13

This assessment of the ancient glass collection is extremely helpful. It allows me to see what types of vessels we have, what gaps we might need to fill, or which pieces should be deaccessioned because they don’t fall within our collection parameters.

Support for this research is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ann and Jim Goodnight Fund for Curatorial and Conservation Research and Travel.

(This is one in an occasional series about ongoing research on the classical collection.)

A Conversation with Sonia Romero

This is the third of three conversations between exhibition curator Jennifer Dasal and artists in Estampas de la raza. Previously, Dasal interviewed printmakers Vincent Valdez and Oscar Magallanes. Today we’re hearing from Sonia Romero.

Sonia Romero in studio. Photo courtesy of Sonia Romero

Jennifer Dasal: This exhibition zeroes in on contemporary prints created by Latino and Hispanic artists. How do you define your own unique cultural heritage?

Sonia Romero: I am half Spanish/Mexican American and half German/Russian American.

JD: What makes a work of art specifically Chicano, Latino, Hispanic, etc.? Is it simply the cultural makeup of the artist who created it, or is it something more?

SR: I think it could be the cultural makeup of the artist or the subject matter pertaining to Chicano/Latino/Hispanic issues. My piece in the exhibition, Bee Pile, is an appreciation of honey bees in light of the recent environmental phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. The disappearance of our pollinators is a national disaster and does not pertain solely to the Latino community. Therefore, I can assume that the [McNay Museum’s] curator chose my work because of my heritage.

JD: What is it about printmaking that makes it so conducive to portraying the larger issues of struggle, traditions, identity, and so forth?

SR: Printmaking was developed so that messages, be they religious, political, or informative, could be spread among the largest amount of people for the least amount of cost. The main asset of printmaking is that it makes multiples.

JD: How did you begin your career as a printmaker? What drew you (or still draws you) toward printmaking?

SR: I began my career as a printmaker at Rhode Island School of Design. I was drawn to it because I wanted to learn a traditional craft, and the definition of painting has been blown apart so much that the craft of painting is no longer highlighted as the core of [some] painting departments. I like the history of printmaking, the precision, the ability to make multiples and the graphic quality of the imagery.

JD: What artistic traditions or histories are you pulling from in your works, if any?

Sonia Romero, Bee Pile (Found ‘Em), 2010, screen print, 37 x 26 in., Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Gift of Harriett and Ricardo Romo, 2011.3, © 2013 Sonia Romero

SR: By creating work at Self-Help Graphics and Modern Multiples [printing houses in Los Angeles], my work has become part of the serigraph tradition. The process of the technique, collaborating with the print shop to create layers of color that translate into an image, has an influence on the finished piece. For instance, the blend or “split fountain” I have in the background of Bee Pile is a traditional silkscreen/serigraph effect. The bees were created with a block printing technique, and then translated into the silkscreen medium.

JD: Can you reflect upon the role of icons in Latino/Chicano art? Who do you consider to be an icon? Are you yourself an icon of Latino or Chicano art?

SR: Popular cultural icons bring people together, creating a feeling of community and commonality. By using a popular icon is one’s artwork, you have automatic access to a wealth of emotion and history. On the negative side, these commonly used images can flatten or create caricatures out of the culture. I think it’s important to assess the origins and meanings that are associated with the images before you decide to use them in your artwork.

JD: What are the biggest challenges facing artists today? What do you feel is the best way to meet such challenges?

SR: I think the biggest challenge to being an artist is facing your own fears and carving out your own artistic path and career. There is no one way to live as an artist.

JD: What was the most fulfilling or unexpected aspect of your experience as a part of Estampas de la raza?

SR: Being part of Estampas de la raza opened the door for me to both the Latino community and the art community in San Antonio (I’m based in Los Angeles). The artists from the show have created follow-up exhibitions between Los Angeles and San Antonio, creating a cultural interchange. I hope to do the same in North Carolina.

Recipe: Blueberry Zinfandel Sorbet

It’s blueberry season in North Carolina! These little gems are such a darling summer fruit―powdery, pop-able, useful in so many things from popsicles to barbecue sauce to smoothies. Their abundance in July and August sends me into a Pinterest whirlwind, pinning wildly to find as many ways to use them as possible—even tie-dye! They stain like a beast anyway, right?

I especially love putting them together with my favorite red wine varietal, zinfandel. It brings out less of the demure side and more of the “POW” side of blueberries. Using them together in a sorbet reminds you that blueberries are a serious superfood. I mean, bears seek these things out to eat!

Putting wine in desserts is nothing new, and it’s not about the alcohol … it’s about the marriage of flavors and creating depth. Fruit on its own is bright and beautiful and simple. Wine is the fierce element that comes in and gives the calm some excitement. Straight-up blueberry sorbet is delightful, but Blueberry Zinfandel Sorbet is memorable.—JH

Blueberry Zinfandel Sorbet

4 pints fresh blueberries

1 ½ cups zinfandel

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup honey

2 cups water

¼ tsp. cinnamon

1 bay leaf

  1. Pour wine into a stainless steel saucepot and place over high heat. Add the other ingredients and stir to combine.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf.
  4. Puree mixture in a blender.
  5. Chill in refrigerator at least three hours, and then freeze according to ice cream maker’s instructions.

Jennifer Hicks is executive pastry chef at Iris. In case you missed her last post, check out Jennifer’s recipe for Sweet Potato Scallion Biscuits.