Duane Neil, Head of the Art Department, has partnered with Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art (FOFA) to bring Spanish-speaking visiting artists to Chapin’s Lower and Middle School for the past few years. This year’s visitor, Francisco Hernández Pérez, recently spent a day in the Lower School art room and met with various classes. The result was a hands-on, cross-curricular lesson that combined Spanish and the arts.
With Spanish teachers Carolina Aguasanta, Debora Lee, and Remedios Lopez Polo on hand to help translate as needed, Mr. Hernández Pérez explained to the students, entirely in Spanish, that he studied architecture in college but is an orfebre, or metalsmith, by trade. He creates delicate, handmade filigree jewelry, or filigrana, which he sells out of his store in the heart of Oaxaca, Mexico, called Que Tenga Buena Mano (You Have a Good Hand). Filigree jewelry has become extremely popular, due in large part to renewed interest in the iconic style of renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. While the sale of this jewelry is how this artist makes a living, his other passion, and the one he visited Chapin to share, is folk art collages.
Influenced by the paintings of the late Mexican painter Rodolfo Morales, Mr. Hernández Pérez creates whimsical collages that portray friends, family and the everyday people he sees in Oaxaca. His work is popular with American tourists and features bold colors, recycled materials, and exaggerated physical features that provide comic relief. The artist brought some of his favorite pieces to Chapin, which he displayed in the Lower School art room during his visit:
As the curious students gathered around him in one particular class, Mr. Hernández Pérez demonstrated how he creates one of his signature collages. Covering the art room table was a pile of colorful recycled materials the artist brought along on his visit, such as lace, yarn and paper. Using these materials, he carefully cut a face out of pink paper, trimmed it with golden string for the hair, selected vibrant cloth for the clothing, and added little red circles for a pop of color on the cheeks. When finished, the artist held up a quirky collage of a little girl for the students to admire. He then began asking them questions like:
¿Cómo se llama?
What is her name?
¿Cuántos años tiene?
How old is she?
¿De qué color es su pelo?
What color is her hair?
Está contenta o triste?
Is she happy or sad?
With their Spanish teachers there for guidance and encouragement, the students were able to reply to these questions with confidence and completely in Spanish. They named the girl featured in the collage Maya. She was nine (nueve) years old, had blonde (rubia) hair, and looked happy (contenta).
Next, the students worked with Lower School art teacher Lauren McCarty to create their own self-portraits inspired by the visiting artist’s style. Mr. Hernández Pérez generously shared his materials with the students, who used metallic string and fuzzy yarn for the hair and patterned cloth for the clothing. Some students even added his signature red cheeks! As they worked, the students asked the artist questions (en español). What are his favorite colors? (Pink and fuchsia.) Which collage that he brought is his favorite? (Either the bride and groom or the angel.) The room was abuzz with creative energy as each girl worked to make a unique piece of art.
Once their collages were finished, the students returned to their seats around the table and one by one shared their work with the artist. Their teachers encouraged them as, entirely in Spanish, they introduced themselves and described their artwork while Mr. Hernández Pérez listened with a smile and asked questions. These eclectic collages will serve as vibrant reminders of the students’ time spent practicing their conversational Spanish skills with the celebrated folk artist from Oaxaca.
Browse photos from the artist's visit below: