The mystique of lost cities, hidden gold that was pillaged and plundered by Spanish conquistadors, and the true history of the short-lived and majestic Incas of Peru is a tale that spellbound and inspired the students of Sanchez Elementary.
The school, in collaboration with La Peña in downtown Austin, will showcase the artwork of 70 students beginning Friday.
The exhibit, “Mascaras de los Incas,” showcases Inca masks created by the students in art class. The resulting golden masks, created by elaborate art techniques, shed light on the impact of art education in the community and in developing the self-esteem of youngsters.
“We believe it’s important for them to see what they create outside of the classroom setting,” said David Gutierrez, artistic director of La Peña.
Gutierrez said the collaboration between the school and the art organization is longstanding—La Peña has been touting the work of Sanchez students for two decades.
“It [the exhibit] raises the students’ self-esteem,” he said. “They can see their work hanging in an art gallery and can point to their name on the invitation for the show.”
He hopes that as the students get older, their inclusion in exhibits such as this one will keep their artistic fires burning as young artists or in any other creative endeavors.
Susan Holland, teacher at Sanchez Elementary for the last three years, is one person spearheading the effort. Holland, worked alongside Sanchez Elementary art teacher Angelica Wilson and Monica Patterson, Holland’s apprentice art teacher.
Utilizing creative pedagogies, the three women taught the fourth-graders about the importance gold played in the Inca societies. Integrating culture and history with art techniques, they made and embellished Inca masks out of gold tin and using a method called repoussé. Interestingly, this ancient metalworking technique was used by the goldsmiths of ancient Peru. The students also used collaging and printmaking techniques for gold collograph prints.
Holland, who is grateful and enthusiastic about the affiliation with La Peña, cited the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Test, or TEKS, standards as one of the reasons exhibits of this sort are important to her.
“The TEKS standards specifically call for students to ‘interpret ideas and moods in original artworks, portfolios, and exhibitions by peers and others,'” she said. “La Peña provides my students with an exceptional opportunity to do this.”
She echoed Gutierrez by adding, “Having their artwork on display outside of the school connects the students to the larger community. It’s so exciting for them to see their art in a public space framed or on pedestals and it validates their hard work and shows them that they’re capable of creating impressive art.”
Holland said that art history is a “strand” in the school’s curriculum standards. She added that Sanchez Elementary has students from at least 15 different nationalities. She said her classes often investigate culture and art history from around the globe. When asked how the students reacted, Holland said the students had varying levels of success and frustration while learning the new processes but that they were itching to try the new art techniques. She said that art allows children to be creative, experiment and experience trial and error—all which she said would allow them to develop problem solving skills for real situations.
“Talking about art and backing up ideas with visual evidence sharpens students’ language skills,” she said. “When our student make and respond to art, they become better prepared for other subjects and for general life experiences.”
La Peña, founded in 1981, has showcased the work of innumerable students and Chicano and Latino artists including, Santa Barraza, who was known for her empowering acrylic Guadalupanas, as well as Austin-based printmaker Sam Coronado and Austin painter Nivia Gonzalez. It is community-based and fervently dedicated to the education, empowerment, development, preservation and promotion of Latino expression in any and all forms.
“Mascaras de los Incas” will be on display at La Peña’s downtown gallery from April 9 to May 7, with an opening reception on Friday, April 9, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information on the exhibit, please visit www.lapena-austin.org.