Santa Gertrudis School fourth graders received a first-hand tour and art lesson from famed Chicana artist Carmen Lomas Garza last week prior to the public opening of a permanent exhibit on display at the John E. Conner Museum showcasing her artwork.

“We had a great time,” Garza said.

Born in Kingsville and an alumna of Texas A&I University, Garza’s artwork portrays everyday lives of Mexican-American families living in South Texas based on her own memories and experiences.

Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s Conner Museum recently purchased from the Thinkery in Austin “En Mi Familia,” an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to step inside four of Garza’s paintings through multi-sensory displays that depict the sights, sounds, smells and feel of Hispanic home life.

Garza said having the exhibit on permanent display at the Conner Museum is “a great honor.”

“I never thought it would happen,” she said. “(Walking through the exhibit) brings back all of my memories growing up here in Kingsville.”

Last week, Garza visited with two sets of fourth grade students from Santa Gertrudis School at the museum.

“We had a morning and an afternoon class here,” Garza said. “And this morning was just as good as this afternoon, and (the students) had a lot of fun.”

Garza began with a guided tour through the exhibit with the students, explaining her artwork as well as how it reflected her own childhood.

“And when the kids were looking at it and walking through it, you could see that there was a familiarity with the images,” Garza said of the students’ reactions to the exhibit. “They can see their own stories, and it prompts them to talk about their own experiences.”

Following the tour, Garza then guided students in different methods of creating “papel picado” artwork.

Papel picado, or “pecked paper,” is a type of Mexican folk art created by cutting elaborate designs into folded sheets of tissue paper.

“I’ve been doing these since 1971,” Garza said. “I saw the tissue paper cutouts in Mexico and thought, ‘I can do that.’”

While Garza’s preferred ‘papel picado’ method – where she draws the artwork onto cloth paper and uses a knife to cut out the designs – is more elaborate than what she taught the students on Thursday, she said the folding method is one the students can practice and experiment with at home.

Ten-year-old Dalyssa Silguero said she thought the art lesson was “fantastic.”

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Dalyssa said. “Everything here has been fantastic, including the exhibit.”

Dalyssa said she plans to save her papel picado to display during her 11th birthday party next year.

Conner Museum Director Jonathan Plant said he was “thrilled” at the reactions from the students regarding the exhibit.

“From the moment they first saw it, they’ve been so excited,” he said. “The kids really seem to enjoy it and I am very pleased.”

The museum visit ended with Garza answering students’ questions about her career as an artist as well as her childhood, followed by a round of “Happy Birthday” and cupcakes in honor of Garza’s 71st birthday.

On Friday, the museum hosted a special “sneak preview” VIP fundraiser event featuring cultural demonstrations, such as how to make pan de polvo, as well as food, drinks and live Mariachi music.

The museum also held a “Family Day” event on Saturday, which opened “En Mi Familia” to the general public. Garza attended both the VIP fundraiser and Family Day events, providing patrons guided tours of the exhibit.

The Conner Museum is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call (361) 593-2810.

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.

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