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 possess the talent of making you feel as though you have known them a long, long time — even though you’ve only just met — 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 Pagosa Daily 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.