Experiencing Papier-Mâché: Cartonería Giants Overtake the Town

This summer, the Museum of International Folk Art's popular exhibition, La Cartonería Mexicana: The Art of Paper and Paste, extends to Milner Plaza. "Visitors will enjoy our outdoor exhibition of imaginary cartonería creatures called alebrijes, as well as other fanciful animals," says Nora Dolan, who organized the outdoor project. Dolan also co-curated La Cartonería with Leslie Fagre, the museum's director of education.

Four contemporary master cartoneros (papi- er-mâché artists) from Mexico City spent months designing and building their alebrijes, often working with partners in their communities. The artists include Perla Miriam Salgado Zamorano, Alejandro Camacho Barrera, Alberto Moreno Fernández and Edgar Israel Camargo Reyes. The works were borrowed from a much larger exhibition curated by the Mexican Cultural Center in DuPage, Illinois.

“This installation is a source of pride for the artists, their families and the people of Mexico,” says Fernando Ramirez, president and founder of the Mexican Cultural Center. “They are excited to share their work in Santa Fe.”

Exhibition funding received a jump start from Coreen Cordova, a Friends of Folk Art board member. “As a lifetime collector of Mexican folk art, the Cartonería exhibition just spoke to me,”
she says. “I was so happy to open my home for the [Museum of New Mexico] Foundation’s fundraising event and just thrilled we raised more than $20,000.” Los Amigos del Arte Popular provided an additional $7,500 grant for the outdoor installation.

Another exhibition supporter is the James Beard Award-winning chef Fernando Olea, owner of Santa Fe’s Sazón restaurant. His contribution of fancifully-themed hors d’oeuvres took Cordova’s event over the top. Olea described his involvement, saying, “Because food is my art, it’s similar to the papier-mâché in Cartonería, visually fun, yet impermanent.”

This summer, another giant alebrije will delight visitors to the Santa Fe Public Library’s southside branch, where they will be greeted by a fifteen- foot figure by Mexican artist Oscar Becerra Mora. The Friends of Folk Art stepped in again with a grant to bring the figure from the Mexican Cultural Center in Denver.

Private donations via the Museum of New Mexico Foundation also funded a traveling exhibition throughout Santa Fe and northern New Mexico through the end of May. Post Fiesta Wares, a papier-mâché installation of alebrijes created by Santa Fe artist Rick Phelps, was showcased by Axle Contemporary, a mobile art space inside a custom retrofitted 1970 aluminum delivery van.

Phelps describes his work as “sculptures drawing on the traditional Mexican arts of cartonería and piñata, incorporating an ever-changing array of materials, references and characters, drawing upon Pop, Punk, Folk, Funk and other vernacular traditions.”

The Museum of International Folk Art’s bilingual educator Kemely Gomez will continue to engage the public with cartonería art-making activities and learning opportunities throughout the run of the exhibition, which is on view through November 3, 2024.

What's New in the Collection

The late Carlos José Otero was born in Los Lunas, New Mexico, in 1947. In addition to being a santero (saint maker), Otero was an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher, a poet, musician and composer, and genealogist. In 2018, he was awarded the Spanish Colonial Arts Society's Masters Award for Lifetime Achievement for his excellence as an artist and for his work promoting Hispano culture.

Otero was dedicated to traditional materials and techniques. He used cottonwood and gathered and ground his pigments from nature. He made gesso from gypsum and rabbit hide glue, and for varnish, used piñon tree sap mixed with 100% grain alcohol.

In this large-scale bulto (sculpture of a saint)—recently donated to the museum by Bernie Lopez and Joan Myers— Otero depicts the fall of Adam and Eve. He includes in this sculptural work a self-portrait with his own visage as the face of the snake.



This article and image are from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Summer 2022.