story & photos by Madeleine Ahlborn | firstname.lastname@example.org
WELCOME to the Creative Citizen, normally a podcast and portrait series. For this piece in particular I felt it was appropriate to share the story of my visit with Bianca Maestas in a written format alongside photographs.
SAN LUIS, CO
ON Aug. 17th, 2021, I was invited to visit with Bianca at her family’s foundry in San Luis, Colorado. Originally we were going to talk over the phone about a recent mural she painted for the San Luis Valley Area Health Education Center in Alamosa, but I was glad for the opportunity to see the inner workings of her practice and the studio space because our conversation led to unexpected things.
Leaving Alamosa, I traveled South on 285 to Romeo and from there headed East on 142 through Manassa, past the Pinon Hills and Flat Top Mesa, across the Rio Grande, slowing down coming into San Acacio, then arriving at the base of The Shrine at The Stations of The Cross and turning onto main street in San Luis. As I called Bianca to tell her I made it to town, we saw each other as she walked out of the R&R market toward the family’s gallery in town. This is where we begin.
Creative Citizen: How long has your family had a Gallery?
Bianca Maestas: My Mom and Dad have had a gallery off and on since I was about 14. It hasn’t been open consistently in that time, but it has been quite a long time. Everybody that they carry in here is local. This is a piece by Charles Ewing and here Carlos Sandoval. They have been around forever.
There were small works, large sculptures, paintings on every wall, it was like a museum of cultural artifacts from the hands of the community.
Almost immediately, Bianca’s nephew Amyas walked in with a grin from ear to ear – he recognized me from when I worked at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Alamosa, where he used to attend on occasion. The conversation grew and shifted to the process of working in bronze.
Pointing to one of the larger pieces I asked,
How long does something of this scale take to make?
Amyas: This piece took two and a half months I think.
Bianca: The chemical process in bronze takes at least 6 weeks because you have to make the original sculpture, then a series of molds. The sculpting itself is just however fast you can work. There are normally multiple projects happening at one time so there is always something in the works.
Amyas: He is the best one to talk to about that!
At this moment Huberto and his wife, Dana, (Bianca’s parents, Amyas’s grandparents) walked into the gallery.
All of a sudden, an unexpected conversation took off, as if from nowhere…
Huberto: I’m the best one to talk to about anything. The training itself is enough to stir people away from trying that. People always ask two things, which is almost impossible to answer; one of them I refuse to answer because unless you’re willing to buy one, don’t ask ‘how much?’ (chuckles), and the other is ‘how long does it take?’ Because there’s times that I could sculpt the whole thing in a couple of days, then it takes me two weeks instead of two months. It depends on the pile of work I have around me, which is always immense.
Continuing to look around, Dana points out a few of the works that Amyas has in the gallery.
Dana: Amyas did this when he was 6 or 7.
I asked Bianca if she also learned to sculpt at such a young age, she replied: “Not like him. I don’t think I started to sculpt seriously until I was in my early 20s, but I did work in the foundry and that’s where I learned. Probably when I was about 12. I was working on other people’s things so by the time I started sculpting my own work I just knew how to do it.”
CC: Did you start in other art forms or mediums?
Bianca: I was really into photography when I was younger. As a teenager I was really creative but not necessarily focused on one thing.
Bianca has many artistic tools in her tool box, and starting from a young age has expanded into many different realms, including interior design, painting, sculpting and floral arrangement. She even owns her own floral business (SketchGarden: Flower and Metal) in Denver, where she lives full time.
(Visit her website here to see pictures and also read her artist statement.)
As we left the gallery Bianca showed me a few murals that are in the town of San Luis. Little did I know I was getting a full experience and tour of the art in the oldest town in Colorado.
We walked down a one-way dirt road to a nameless building with a tin roof. Amyas and Huberto were there working on a piece for the Alamosa Art Walk that the Maestas family has participated in since its inception in 2017. (View the Public Art Archive here.)
Amyas, left, Bianca and Huberto Maestas at the family foundry.
As Bianca shows me the process of working in bronze, I am enthralled with the number of works in progress that fill this space, which is one-tenth the size of their old foundry that unfortunately burned down a few years ago.
Room after room there was more work and each little corner served a purpose; from clay to the wax to the plaster to the “slurry” room (which really feels like you’re walking into a winter wonderland) to the
space where bronze is melted to 2000 degrees where it becomes what Bianca calls “hot lava”.
“The sculptures have to be made in sections so they are manageable, then the pieces are welded together. They have to be hollow or else it would be way too heavy, it’s like a big puzzle.”
HAVE you ever read or seen those “I Spy” books? Well, this space could be made into one of those books, small treasures hiding in every piece of the frame.
CC: Do you work with consistent themes in your work?
Bianca: Obviously I love plants and flowers, but I also love doing dancers and figures. I’ve done a lot of different types of work, but that is my preference.
CC: Are you a dancer yourself?
Bianca: I enjoy dancing but I’m not a professional. I like dancers because to me it really talks to the people and the discipline it takes to get your body in shape like that. I also really like how the dresses move.
CC: What is this form of bronze you’re working in?
Bianca: Low relief. To me working this way is almost more difficult because you have to make something, you know…flat is flat, to look like it’s moving or look 3-dimensional even though it’s not. I guess more than anything it’s about energy and movement in my sculptures.”
CC: Is it hard to keep up with demand for inventory or stay ahead?
Bianca:I mean it can be, but generally if I have any inventory I get it to another place and move it right away. Right now I’m pretty low on inventory and this is why I’m trying to work a lot. That’s the benefit of getting to come home once and awhile, I get to cast my own stuff.
We took one more lap around the space and spoke with Huberto and Amyas again before we walked over to a picnic table outside the gallery to learn more about the recent mural in Alamosa.
CC: Is this the first mural you ever did in Alamosa?
Bianca: It is the first mural I ever did in Alamosa, yes.
CC: Is it something you applied for?
Bianca: My friend Lisa Lucero told me there was some possible funding for a mural at the San Luis Valley Health Education Center on Ross Avenue and the concept was about old medicine and new medicine. It’s something I really care about and that I’m interested in. I don’t think I would have wanted to do a mural about anything, but when I heard the idea I was like, ‘Oh, I can figure out something for that.’
Bianca continues to speak to the symbolic nature of the work, the process, and her experience.
I used a lot of medical symbols on it to represent the new medicine, and all the herbs and plants I painted are all edible plants that are grown in the area. You can make tea or they can be made into tinctures, so they’re all natural remedy plants. I wanted to combine or marry the two.
My reason for using new medical symbols inside the honeycomb, well one, bees are the best architects and two, we actually do a lot of honey harvesting in the San Luis Valley. I wanted to have natural elements that represent the area.
CC: Can you talk more about the plants?
Bianca: As far as the plants go, I do a lot of floral, gardening, and I have my own floral business. When I was growing up my grandmother was an amazing gardener, herbalist, and used a lot of medicinal plants, so I think that’s why I have such an interest in that.
CC: Are you pumped on the final piece?
Bianca: Overall this was a great opportunity and I’m happy to do something in the area that I’m from. I was happy with the subject, too. I wanted it to be about healing and education. It also creates a timeline and history that circles back to the area. Because at the end of the day, you have to be able to take care of yourself, plus flowers are pretty and no one would be upset about that (laughter).
CC: How long did the process take?
Bianca: The whole process went pretty quickly. Everyone was really easy to work with and really efficient, so probably 3-4 months. I developed different sketches, then there were a series of community meetings where people could put in their comments and input. A doctor was there to give information about the new medicine. There were like 20 different shades of blue for the background so people weighed in on the color choice. It was a community project. Deciding on what the mural would look like took time. But when I started painting, the process went pretty quickly. … A building that normally blends into the residential area, now stands out.
This will not be Bianca’s last mural in the San Luis Valley. There is talk about future projects in the works in 2022, Bianca says.
“The concept will be a map of the Valley and cultural representation. We have to wait and see what that will look like, where the location will be, how it’s designed, and the scale.”
Even though she lives in Denver full time, everytime she comes back to the Valley she said it just feels like coming home.
“It’s not an odd shift I have to experience in some way. I’m here doing this, then I’m there doing that. It’s a transition.”
My visit to San Luis with Bianca was expected, but all of the background information and just how deep the Maestas family connection really is, was a pleasant and unexpected experience. I am grateful for the time that Bianca, Huberto, Dana, and Amyas spent with me and exposing the light in their lives and work.