About the Mural
A Decade of Work
Mundos de Mestizaje depicts thousands of years of Hispanic history in the broadest sense, from Europe to Mesoamerica and into the American Southwest, illustrating the complexities and diversity of the Hispanic experience. The mural is embedded with images that explore the historical connections among arts, sciences, language, migration, and conflict along with a celebration of creative cross-pollination and cultural exchange of ideas.
A Panel of Scholars
A group of respected New Mexico scholars were convened by the National Hispanic Cultural Center to consult directly with Frederico Vigil in order to create a list of significant themes and images which could represent Hispanic cultural history spanning the Iberian, Spanish, Mesoamerican and New Mexico heritage. These scholars included Dr. Adrian Bustamante, Dr. Robert Torres, Dr. Robert Himmerich, and Dr. Enrique Lamadrid along with NHCC staff scholars and professionals. Considerable discussion and time were given to the selection of these images, and the final content of the mural had to be presented and approved by the Board of Directors for the National Hispanic Cultural Center as did an initial design for the mural. The content from the scholars provided Vigil with a historical framework and a solid starting point in terms of content. Vigil then researched and studied the content in order to build and weave his own visual interpretation of the historical content and cultural layering which he eventually named Mundos de mestizaje.
Mundos de mestizaje is a fitting title as Vigil portrays a whirlwind of perspectives, words and languages, ideals and heartaches that are the shared human experience. At first glance, the mural may appear to be a swirl of imagery, but in truth, the mural has a great deal of internal organization. Generally, chronologically older images are at the base of the mural, and as the viewer looks upward the imagery refers to more and more recent events, ending with the ceiling and oculus which present a vision of civilization and the artist’s view – or perhaps questions – of the future.
There are three general groupings of imagery – the Iberian Peninsula, Mesoamerica/Americas and the U.S. Southwest/New Mexico. Alongside this general organization of content, the mural also presents history as it truly is – with overlapping time periods, notable people alongside the anonymous, conflicts paired with cultural achievements, references with disputed meanings, individuals with multiple identities and tiny ants who rival rulers for the viewer’s attention. The mural itself asks the viewer to be aware of the pitfalls of size and proportion given to any one image along with centuries-old stereotypes and deep-seeded linear learning norms. Honest viewers are invited to reflect and ask questions, sometimes difficult or uncomfortable, about the past and shared histories.
A Challenging Wall
The physical space for this mural presented several challenges. The size, the curve, the height and the conical property of the space were each individual challenges, but together they created a complex geometry for perspective along with practical challenges for working on the wall. Although Vigil created and used a physical model of the Torreon before he began painting on the wall, he still had to adjust the size and perspective of many of the images once he began to transfer them to the wall. He generally painted the images at the top of the Torreon and moved down as the project progressed over the years. The physical demands of painting a fresco of this size are significant, especially for the ceiling and the highest images on the wall. These are the largest of the images and the work required climbing scaffolds, carrying supplies, and painting at uncomfortable angles. Vigil painted every brushstroke of the mural himself over the span of more than six years of painting, however, he did have interns, apprentices, and volunteers to help him over the years with plastering, mixing of pigments and the transfer of images from cartoons to the walls.
Mundos de Mestizaje was created using the ancient technique of buon fresco; meaning that water-based inorganic pigments are applied to a coat of wet plaster. The inorganic pigments react with lime in the wet plaster sealing the images and creating a very durable work of art. Mundos de Mestizaje is painted on several layers of plaster. Each coat of plaster builds and prepares for the next coat in order to create a foundation for painting: the first coat is the scratch-coat or the rough-cast; the second coat is the brown coat or rough coat; the third coat is the sand-finish coat; and the fourth coat is the intonaco, fine plaster or the final coat.
Before painting the images on the wall, Vigil created a set of color studies which helped to guide the overall organization and final painting of the mural. In addition to the color studies, he also created cartoons for the images within the mural. The cartoons are full-size drawings on tracing paper that were used to first perfect the final form of each image and then used as guides for the artist to transfer the pieces of the mural to wall before they were painted.
Once the layers of plaster are applied, with the exception of the intonaco coat, the full-scale cartoons are transferred to the wall. The artist punches small holes along the lines of the cartoon’s image. Then, the cartoon is held still in place, against the wall as the artist “pounces” the holes in the cartoon with a fine charcoal powder. The result is an outline of the image on the wall to guide the painting once the intonaco coat is applied.
One of the innate challenges of painting a large buon fresco mural is that pigments can only be applied to wet plaster, and plaster only stays wet for 6 – 8 hours in the New Mexico climate. Therefore, painting days for the mural had to be well-planned, the artist had to be well prepared and well rested to take advantage of every minute of possible painting time once the intonaco coat was applied. In addition, buon fresco is not a forgiving medium. If there are mistakes, or if the artist wants to make a change, the pigment and some plaster must be removed and then reapplied before new pigment can be applied to a new intonaco coat of plaster.
Buon fresco is an art medium that requires a great deal of technical expertise, physical labor, patience, and perseverance from the artist. The process is not simple and provides no instant gratification, but the result is a rich, layered, and enduring work of art.
Mundos de Mestizaje was painted by New Mexico native, Frederico Vigil who grew up inspired by the rich history that has become the trademark of his art. He spent close to a decade on this monumental 4,000 square foot work. The mural was opened to the public on October 10, 2010.
Frederico M. Vigil painted Mundos de Mestizaje which is a 4,000 square foot concave fresco in the Torreón at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Vigil was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico and received a Bachelor of Sciences in Biology from the College of Santa Fe in 1970. In 1984, he studied fresco with fresco masters, the late Lucienne Block and Stephen Pope Dimitroff in Gualala, California, who were understudies of Diego Rivera.
Vigil has received many awards throughout his artistic career, including the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (2002), and the Art in America Award (2000) which featured the Best Public Art Projects in the United States. He is also the recipient of Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Development and Enrichment of the Arts (1999), the Visual Arts Fellowship Award in Painting by the National Endowment for the Arts (1987), the Rio Grande Institute Fellowship Award (1986) and the Southwest Merit Award (1985)by the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Commissioned fresco murals by Vigil are also installed at the College of Santa Fe, St. Vincent’s Hospital Healing Garden in Santa Fe, the patio at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Courthouse, Northern New Mexico Community College in Española, Taos County Courthouse, Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Bernalillo and Casa de Cultura in Granada, Spain. Vigil’s artwork is included in collections in Venice, California, the New Mexico State Capitol Building in Santa Fe and many private collections throughout the country.