The Magical World of Roberto Garcia
Not long ago, at a delightful party, I had the pleasure – and honor – of meeting one of the most accomplished artists in the Southwest: the brilliant sculptor Roberto Garcia, Jr.
I had been a fan of his work in bronze for years but never had the opportunity to meet him in person. And that’s a real shame, especially since we’re practically neighbors in rural Aspen Springs. Some extraordinary people, after having just met them, possess a talent of making you feel as though you have known them a long, long time; and Roberto is one of those rare individuals.
As it turned out, both he and I are one-time Texans who had made their long meandering journey through life to Santa Fe, finally ending up in Pagosa. In fact, we may have overlapped in the Ancient City. (Come to think of it, Bill Hudson may have walked those narrow, venerable streets around this time.) Roberto worked at the famous Shidoni Foundry and Galleries in Tesuque, NM. He was the chief mold maker there for two years and also helped with the stupendous pours. I was in awe of Shidoni – its fabulous works of art, sculptors and foundry men – and visited quite often over the course of my happy years in the City Different.
I asked my new friend if I could interview him for the Post. He agreed and suggested that I come to his home and foundry, way up on Blue Jay Circle, overlooking Aspen Springs and beyond. I had no idea there was a bronze foundry here in Outlaw Land!
Early in the morning, a few days later, I turned into his driveway and proceeded into a mystical world of beauty and wonderment. Under the towering cliffs of majestic Billy Goat Peak, Roberto, and Ana – his lovely wife and fellow artist of thirty-two years – had built a marvelous little home in 1995 in the quirky style of a sort of ‘antebellum’ Mediterranean hacienda with the air of a southwest Tara.
Complete with an impressive Dr. Seuss looking stairway leading up to a columned double deck porch, crowned with a huge 12-point elk rack, the house is just another piece of artwork scattered about the heavenly three acres. The four handmade columns represent Roberto, Ana, and their two grown children. Daughter and son were raised in this unique miniature palace and attended school here in Pagosa Springs.
I looked around the fairy tale kingdom in awe. The view to the north was spectacular with Pagosa Peak and her sisters standing sentinel over Pagosa Country.
“I just love it up here. We don’t want to live anywhere else in the world,” whispers Roberto. His voice suggesting the feeling of a man who is quite satisfied with his life. And why not? He and Ana live and work in their private little sanctuary with their two little dogs, deer lingering here and there, hawks gliding above in the cobalt sky, unfortunately being invaded by nosy reporters.
Just a stone’s throw away from the house is Roberto’s “office”: a large industrial shop with cement floor including various rooms and nooks for certain phases of the complicated casting operation. The actual foundry resides at the rear of the structure and is covered but open to the elements on three sides. Roberto built everything in sight and creates his works of art using the invaluable experience he has gleaned over a lifetime of working with bronze. The whole place is full of plaster statues, finished bronze pieces, armatures, sketches and paintings adorning the walls, tools, books, photos, memorabilia, and, of course, a stereo to add even more mood to the already enchanted atmosphere. One can imagine Leonardo da Vinci feeling quite at home here.
As a young boy of 15 in Laredo, Texas, Roberto Jr. was a natural artist cultivated by his loving teacher Mrs. Quiros-Walker who suggested a book on sculpting. Later at the University of Texas he studied under Professor Charles Umlauf, an internationally acclaimed sculptor and painter who showed the aspiring artist the ways of the world of bronze sculpting and casting. Go to: www.umlaufmuseum.com.
After graduating UT with a BFA in Studio Fine Arts Roberto headed off to Princeton, NJ and studied at the prestigious Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture. He never lost touch with his mentor Charles Umlauf and communicated with him until he died at age 83. “He was the Master and I was Grasshopper.” Roberto smiled as he recalled his old friend and mentor. He then showed me a large illustrated book about the master and his work – very impressive indeed.
There were photos on the wall of some of Roberto’s more monumental pieces including giant ten foot statues of George Washington and Christopher Columbus. The artist is standing next to one of the behemoths and is dwarfed like a small child looking up at his adored father.
But the focal point of the shop area looms directly outside the open entrance: an eight-foot bronze statue of the eighteenth century Spanish explorer Joseph de Escandon.
Roberto’s latest commission was awe inspiring.
“The work weighs over 800 pounds, and with bronze costing $5 a pound, that adds up to over $4,000 worth of metal!” Joseph is posed holding a map of northern Mexico and present day south Texas. Proudly gazing out over the Valley, clad in knee boots with spurs, gauntlets, fancy jacket and vest, donning a cape and tri-cornered hat, he is a sight to behold. The artist has captured a distinct feeling of pride, passion, and determination exuding from the handsome face. The piece in its entirety is dignified but quite beautiful. I do believe that Joseph himself would approve wholeheartedly!
This statue was commissioned by Roberto’s “patron” of 15 years, Mr. John Cantu, who owns property in Pagosa Country. The work will reside on the campus of UT Pan-American in Edinburg, Texas, part of the area that Don Joseph de Escandon settled and governed in the mid 1700’s. This is a project that has cut no corners, and the school has embraced the concept and is anxiously awaiting delivery. Once on campus, in a new courtyard, the statue will be hoisted onto a large granite slab with the ancient map sand blasted onto the top surface. Admirers will be able to approach the work and actually touch the bronze. Roberto says: “I never create sharp points on a statue that may hurt anyone.” He’s right. As a little kid I remember climbing on old Civil War statues and sitting on their broad shoulders. Boys will be boys.
“This work is close to my heart. Joseph was founding father of my [homeland] … and he brought my ancestors there.” It was apparent that Roberto had gotten to know Joseph quite well over the months of toil over his monument.
Roberto’s assistant is the well-known, prolific artist and wood carver Chad Haspels whose amazing pieces can be spotted throughout Pagosa Country. “I trust Chad with my work and he is very strong, very competent.” Qualities needed in pouring heavy, hot bronze into delicate molds. Their are basically seven complicated steps in the process and each one is critical to the final product. Roberto says “If you make a mistake in one of the early steps, it won’t get any better as you go. And it will haunt you in the end.” Chad is apprenticing and learning each step to perfection.
Roberto took me to a little hidden spot on the property where we sat on an old bench in front of one of his bronze sculptures: a beautiful, scantily-clad woman, body perfectly proportioned, floating inside a large hoop, held up by a bearded muscular man (Neptune?) on his back. The piece is actually a fountain that flows from spouts around the hoop, water dripping over the graceful woman and weary man into a lovely pool.
Roberto sat back and exhaled: “This is woman, the center of the universe, and man struggles to support her in every way.” I could definitely identify with that. And what a gorgeous piece of art, almost hypnotic. A lot of his work is quite sensual as well as spiritual, and this was a good example. I could have sat there for hours gazing in a trance.
“Not only does a statue need to be technically correct, it has to be beautiful.” Roberto continued: “You want people to look at it and say ‘wow, that’s wonderful.’ I work on the face and try to get the best expression. Sometimes I’ll be at the City Market and I’ll watch interesting faces and find certain looks – the eyes, the way the lips are formed – and I might come home and change the face I’m working on.” (Thanks Roberto. Now we’ll all be self-conscious when shopping at City Market.) “I must say that women inspire me more than men. And of course I find inspiration in nature, what is all around us. It’s wonderful to live in Colorado where we have four distinct seasons, each one inspires in its own way.”
Roberto emphasizes that his wife Ana is a partner in every sense of the word: “She helps me with the casting and knows the whole process. She’s a strong woman.” He tells me that their 32-year old marriage can be attributed to giving each other space and to find time to be alone. Good advice for us all …
As I write this, Roberto is busy applying the different patinas on the raw bronze of Joseph de Escandon. In the end, after a the sculpture has been waxed, the awesome statue will come to life – and not a minute too soon. On Saturday Joseph will be carefully packaged and loaded on a truck headed to his new home in south Texas.
The artist has decided to invite a dozen or so friends to his foundry on Friday the 24th to bid Don Joseph a fond farewell. Folks will be in awe of the tremendous accomplishment. And yes, the statue is technically correct… and beautiful. Hopefully we can provide a terrific video of the sculptor, foundry and festivities.
Those who would like to see more of Roberto Garcia’s sculptures and paintings can go to his and Ana’s website at: www.garcia-art.com. For those who would like to meet the artist and view some of his work “up close” and perhaps purchase a few pieces, please contact him at 970-507-0918 or email him at: email@example.com
Roberto has a wonderful life and has reached an age where he can fully appreciate the wonder that is all around him. He is a talented, soft spoken, warm and spiritual man who has dedicated his life to art much as the great masters had. But it isn’t all fun and games: “Last year this time I had to borrow money just to put food on the table. And then I got this commission. When there’s work, life is good.” Now that’s dedication!
The artist would like to follow in the footsteps of his late mentor and teach serious aspiring sculptors the ways of his trade, to share a lifetime of creating art for the sake of art alone. He is considering leasing a warehouse in central Denver where he can work and teach. He feels that Denver is an “art city” with many aficionados interested in commissioning new works; and many up-and-coming sculptors who could benefit from Roberto’s vast knowledge and talent. Of course Roberto and Ana are not thinking of selling their little slice of paradise here in Aspen Springs, but taking his career to a new level sounds like a worthwhile proposition. Good luck, my friend!