Arts-muesuem(will)

Dr. Harriett Romo sits at her desk, a book featuring
prints from  “Estampas de la Raza:
Contemporary Prints from the Romo Collection” on her lap. She describes in
detail the moment she and her husband bought their first piece of art.

“One of my colleagues invited Ricardo and I to dinner at
her house. The whole evening, I saw this beautiful piece on her wall behind the
dining room table and I said, ‘Where did you get it? Where do we find Mexican
art like this?’”

And so began a lifetime of art collecting.  The Romos’ collection of over 200
prints inspired “Estampas de la Raza,” the most current exhibit at the McNay.
The show is a beautiful display of more than 60 prints by 44 artists that
celebrate the rich Mexican-American culture.

Romo and her husband, President Romo, were working in
inner-city schools in Los Angeles when a colleague told them about a Beverly
Hills gallery that specialized in Mexican Art.

“We started looking at the pieces that were there, and he
(the gallery owner) spent some time with us and explained it. Every time we had
some time, we’d go over and just kind of wander around the gallery,” Romo said.

“Finally, he said, ‘You like this art. Why don’t you all
buy a piece and you can pay me in monthly payments, and you can take it home.’
So, that’s what we did.”

The Romos’ first print, a Rufino Tamayo lithography, cost
$300. The Romos were living in an unfurnished, $90 a month apartment. The piece
represented a little over three months’ rent.

“We paid him $25 a month and we had our books in orange
crates and table with two chairs and our Rufino Tamayo lithograph,” she said.

Romo then opened the book on her lap to Sun Raid, one of
the prints on display at the McNay. The silkscreen print by Ester Hernandez
depicts the maiden from the notable Sun-Maid Raisin box as a skeleton. She
discussed the deportations that were going on at the time during “Great
American Boycott” and how the piece reflects an ideology of the people during
that time.

Romo seems attached to the many migrant workers who were
angered by the farming companies that, without concern, sprayed pesticides over
their fields while families and children were working. The image displayed
creates a clear, vivid argument, supporting the migrants.

Romo continued to flip through pages of the book and
pointed to example after example of prints that bring attention to the
exploitation of the laborers who were working very long hours and earning very
little and of the refusal to let them organize labor unions.

“I was teaching elementary in a very low-income area and
many of their families were migrant workers. We were both very much
experiencing what these students were experiencing,” she said.

“It spoke very much to the kind of situation we were
involved in, and as I became a sociologist, these definitely spoke to me. He’s
(Ricardo) a historian, so we were interested in the history of these movements
and the way they were characterized in art,” she continued.

After a couple of moves around the country the Romos
settled in San Antonio. It was then that the McNay asked them to be co-chairs
of their Mexican print exhibit.

 “We realized
that they (the McNay) had a big collection of Mexican Prints and they really
collect works’ on paper. We invited Lyle Williams (Curator of Prints and
Drawings at the McNay) to come over and see what we had – and see if they would
be interested in them. He was very excited about what we had.” 

Romo and her husband gave the McNay 200 pieces and from
that Williams selected the 67 in the exhibit. Romo smiled as she said, “Some of
our favorites are not in this exhibit, so, hopefully, they will do something
else as well.”

Williams grouped the exhibit by themes, identity,
tradition, memory and culture in order to help the exhibit flow from one issue
to the next. As a result, the show is a cohesive body to help individuals
identify with Mexican-American culture. 
The exhibit is not only a beautiful collection of art, but also an
excellent educational tool. 

“We want other people to realize that these artists are
out there. That is what was so exciting about having an exhibit at the McNay- a
lot of people do not know about this art, they do not know about these artists,
they are not usually found in museums,” Romo said.  “We like the artists, we like the art and we are just very
excited that they are getting that kind of attention.”

“Estampas de la Raza: Contemporary Prints from the Romo
Collection” is on display at the McNay until Jan. 27.

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