The connection between Austin and the city of Saltillo in Coahuila, Mexico, has become more than just a diplomatic or cultural one with the latest exhibit on display at the Mexic-Arte Museum.
The Rubén Herrera: Master Artist and Teacher 1888-1933 exhibit features 10 pieces of Herrera’s work, which are on loan from the Museo Rubén Herrera in Saltillo. The exhibit, which debuted May 5 and runs through June 27, is part of the year-long commemoration of the centennial of the Mexican Revolution and bicentennial of Mexican Independence.
Herrera is credited with developing a new generation of artists in Northern Mexico thanks to his founding of the Painting Academy of Saltillo. He studied in Europe for 10 years at various art academies during the time of the Mexican Revolution, and while many in the Mexican art community moved away from classic styles of art, he maintained the style.
The exhibit initially began as a way to commemorate the arrival of delegates from the Mexican city, as Austin and Saltillo are sister cities in the Sister Cities International organization. Little did museum organizers know just how connected Herrera’s work was to Austin. His oldest brother, Benjamin Herrera, emigrated to Austin during the time of the Mexican Revolution and worked as a tailor in the city. His earning helped support family in Mexico, including Rubén while he was studying in Europe. Some of Benjamín’s family still lives in the city today.
Emily Guerra, Mexic-Arte’s graduate research and education assistant, helped create a genealogy chart on the Herrera family, which was included in the exhibit. She said the family tree was developed largely through the help of Delia Sifuentes, an Austin resident who is the niece of Rubén Herrera.
“Someone close to one of our board members just happened to tell the director he was related to the artist, so he provided us with the name of Ms. Sifuentes,” Guerra said. “We got in contact with her and she was willing to help. It really was by chance that we found the connection.”
Guerra said she met with Sifuentes once a week for about five weeks and collected information on the family.
“Each time she brought us new information, new photographs and records she kept on her own time of her family,” Guerra said. “She also contacted other family members herself to get more information.”
After verifying information with other family members and doing some online research, Guerra said they were able to configure a family tree with more than 300 members spanning eight generations.
“The family had all this information, but they never really had a chance to visually organize it,” she said. “They were all very grateful.”
About 40 of Herrera’s decendents attended the opening reception. According to Guerra, family members flew in from all over the country for the opening. Ultimately, Guerra said the exhibit and genealogy research showed a whole other side of connection between Austin and Mexico.
“I think once we found out the family connection with the exhibit, the scope of it changed,” she said. “We wanted to play up how the revolution affected families and how it connected to Austin and spread its influence outside of the country.”
Rubén Herrera: Master Artist and Teacher 1888-1933 will be on display until June 27. The collection features paintings, drawings and other artifacts regarding the artist’s life. Mexic-Arte is located at 419 Congress Ave. in Austin.