Latino Art: The Joy of Collecting and Giving
In mid-January 2021 the McNay Art Museum opened an exhibit of Latino prints featuring the works of Richard Duardo, John Valadez, Cesar Martinez, Raul Caracoza, Melanie Cervantes, Juan Miguel Ramos, John Valadez, Barbara Carrasco, and Juan Mora. We took a special interest in its opening since nearly all the prints exhibited were selected from the Harriett and Ricardo Romo Print Collection at the museum. I have been asked many times about how we started collecting Latino art and why we have now gifted the majority of our collection to museums and educational institutions.
I offer these words hoping to see others pursue the appreciation and possible acquisition of Latino art. I also offer my insights, knowing that there are many Latino artists struggling to make ends meet during this horrible pandemic. They need our support.
First, Let me say a few words about our decade old commitment to the McNay Art Museum. Over the past ten years it has been our pleasure to donate
Latino prints and paintings to the McNay as well as to other various universities and museums in Texas. The
McNay was a logical recipient for our donations since Harriett has served as a member of McNay Board of
Directors for a decade, and currently chairs the Art Committee.
The McNay Art Museum has been the recipient of our largest museum print donation. Our initial gift of 160 prints in 2010 led to the Estampas de la Raza exhibit in 2012, one of McNay’s most successful shows. The exhibit traveled to Los Angeles, Chicago, Albuquerque and Raleigh. This year, it will travel to Sacramento, California. Lyle Williams, the McNay
print curator, edited a book catalogue, Estampas De La Raza: Prints from the Romo Collection which won the top prize in the International Print book competition. To date our donation of Latino works to the McNay number nearly 600 works, and the McNay Art Museum Latino print holdings is considered one of the largest in the nation.
We had a humble beginning developing our appreciation of art and our subsequent plans to start collecting the works of Latino/a artists. Growing up, neither of us had any art in our homes and we onlY visited museums on school field trips. All that changed when we got married and moved to Los Angeles.
We headed to Los Angeles to take teaching jobs with an eye toward eventually enrolling in graduate school. Los Angeles has excellent museums and a strong public following of the arts. In addition, several Los Angeles art galleries had extensive connections with Mexican artists. In 1969, we began to visit the galleries and museums on a regular basis, especially when they featured Mexican art. At the time I was also taking classes in Mexican history for my Masters’
degree program. Modern Mexican history is filled with references to the great Mexican painters of the post-Revolutionary period [1920-1940].
As we became more informed about art, it became easier to choose and buy. The more one knows about art, the easier it is to choose favorite pieces. In 1969 we bought our first Mexican print, a black and white Rufino Tamayo print that cost three
times our monthly rent of $90. This purchase, a Mexican abstract portrait of a man with a hat, still hangs in our bedroom–52 years after acquiring it in Los Angeles.
Over the next decade of collecting, we bought Mexican art as we traveled extensively throughout Mexico, eventually visiting 30 of the 31 states. We loved the paintings, murals, and folk art of the different regions and believed that learning about art would add to our understanding of Mexican culture, history, and society.
Buying Mexican art also filled a personal goal of mine to learn more about Mexican culture and history. While we never could have afforded to buy a Frida Kalho painting, learning about her life added to our knowledge of Mexico.
It helps greatly to study different art forms and styles, and to spend time in museums to determine your likes and preferences. However, buying the right piece of art often results from a combination of luck and serendipity. The artist and printer Richard Duardo is a special case for me.
I first met Richard Duardo, the immensely talented artist and prolific printer of Latino art, in the late 1960s when I was teaching Social Studies at Franklin High School near East Los Angeles. He was my student in our newly minted Mexican American History class and an active leader of MECHA, a student organization that I mentored as faculty advisor. At that time, I had no idea that Richard had a talent for art or interest in Chicano art. Richard Duardo was also my student in the
Occidental College Upward Bound Program over two summers. I left Franklin High School in 1970 for a college teaching position and enrolled in UCLA’s PhD history program. Although Richard and I both studied at UCLA at the same time in the early 1970s, I lost track of him in 1974 when we moved to San Diego where I took a job at UC San Diego in the history
At the same time, Duardo learned the art of screen printing at UCLA and perfected his techniques working with Sister Karen of Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles. A trained printer, Sister Karen founded Self-Help in the early 1970s to assist struggling Latino artists and unemployed youth in their quest for making art and learning new job skills. Duardo also teamed with Carlos Almaraz, a rising star of Latino art at the time to print his work.
Over the next 30 years Duardo produced thousands of prints by hundreds of Latino artists and created a steady production of his own works. It was my good fortune to run into Richard while I was visiting Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. From that
chance encounter, we reestablished our friendship and I became one of his biggest art fans and a steady client. Many of Duardo’s works acquired over those years are now available for viewing at the McNay.
Over the years we have been thoughtful in how we donated more than 2,000 Latino art prints and paintings from our collection. We preferred museums that were accessible to a Latino audience, such as the McNay in San Antonio, the University of Houston Downtown campus, and the San Antonio Witte Museum. We also believed that the prints could serve as a resource for art research. Thus we made extensive gifts to the University of Texas-Austin Benson Latin American Collection and St. Philip’s College in the Eastside community of San Antonio.
Collecting was fun, but our greatest joy came in giving our prized art possessions to deserving non-profit institutions that would provide access to the works and opportunities to learn about the art and the artists.
Copyright 2021 by Ricardo Romo. All photos of prints courtesy of Ricardo Romo.