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Beginnings

Richard Henry ("Hank") Lee opened San Angel Folk Art Gallery 1989 in San Antonio, TX after a decade spent traveling throughout Mexico and Latin America, meeting folk artists and collecting their works. With degrees in both business and visual arts, he sought to create a gallery that supported the vast field of visual folk arts by curating and showing some of the most accomplished folk artists of the day. Shortly after opening San Angel Folk Art gallery, Hank began to feature the work of local artists and artists in the immediate Southwest. As time passed, San Angel Folk Art expanded its collection to include the greater U.S. south and southwest, Europe, and Africa.

Today San Angel Folk Art Gallery curates and maintains one of the world’s most provocative and comprehensive collections of folk, outsider, visionary, and vernacular art, featuring artists from Mexico, Latin America, the United States, Europe, and Africa. Works from San Angel have been purchased by museums and collectors worldwide. San Angel Folk Art has been featured in Raw Visions, The New York Times, Texas Monthly, The Boston Herald, Tradiciones, Rumbo, The Los Angeles Magazine, Lifescapes, and The Southwest Gallery Guide as well as on the BBC, Telemundo, and Televisa networks, as well as the television series Rare Visions and Roadside Attractions.

San Angel Folk Art gallery is staffed by Hank Lee, Leigh Anne Lester, and Paul Bonin-Roldriguez. Leigh Anne Lester is a well-recognized contemporary artist who is also the co-founder and co-director of cactus bra SPACE, San Antonio’s first exclusive installation gallery. Paul Bonin-Rodriguez is a nationally recognized writer-performer and scholar.

"San Angel" – The Name

San Angel Folk Art takes its name from the elegant, cobblestone, colonial-era suburb of San Angel in Mexico City, which remains a vital cultural district. Like the San Angel neighborhood, San Angel Folk Art is a gallery where contemporary works are shown alongside historic ones. Works at San Angel Folk Art date from the 16th Century to the present. The juxtaposition of the historic and the contemporary allows the spectator to gain a greater sense of context and relevance of each work featured.

Folk Art – Definitions

At San Angel, we define folk art broadly, taking into account the history of each artist and her or his work. In recognition of the commonly understood definition of folk art, we value and honor the work of artists who are self-taught, taught by families, or trained by teachers outside the academy. At the same time, we recognize that artists of all practices may share a similar vision and a closeness to the materials that echoes the works of outsiders and, perhaps, responds to them.

In Art Worlds (1983), sociologist Howard S. Becker characterizes folk art as related to a community setting. Becker writes that a folk artist begins her or his work without consideration of an art market, although the market may eventually discover it, buy it, and sell it. At San Angel, we represent a number of artists whose work began independent of the market in the generation(s) preceding. In the years since, the succession of artists have become market professionals and have even made changes to the trade, some of them in an attempt to recover earlier practices. As a result, these artists who emerged from a folk tradition have earned acclaim in the arts market at large.

  • Famed Mexican ceramicist, Alfonso Castillo – working alongside his wife, Marta, and their five children – creates painted ceramic figures in a style started by his grandparents. However, Castillo revived the tradition of using natural dyes and pigments. Castillo holds the distinction of being the first living artist to be named a National Treasure of Mexico.
  • In the mountains of Tennessee, husband and wife J.L. and Marie Nippers carve cedar and paint felled cedar trees to create critters and totems in the manner of their mentor, the famed depression-era folk artist Homer Green.
  • Like his mother and grandmother before him, Oaxacan artist Demetrio Aguilar creates ceramic representations of the people, the animals, and the magical folk tales of Oaxaca. These fantastically painted scenes on figures, retablos, and large-scale arboles de vida ("trees of life") have earned him acclaim as painter and supported his work as a contemporary artist of the canvas.

At San Angel Folk Art, we use the additional terms of outsider and visionary to identify folk artists who work outside of the academy, or against mainstream trends. Perhaps the single greatest commonality of the artists we feature is that they have a "singular vision." By singular, we mean distinctive and focused. By vision, we mean a relationship to the materials that is not overdetermined by the tastes and development of 20th Century modern and post-modern art, but from the awareness, beliefs, and passions of the artists themselves.

The artists featured at San Angel Folk Art come from a variety of cultural identities, geographical locations, and spiritual traditions. Many of these artists use their material practices to create works that hail tradition and, at the same time, comment on the tensions of the modern condition, on globalism, capitalism, the environment, war, and resistance.

  • In New Mexico, Nicholas Herrera, a world-renowned santero (saint-maker) carves and paints traditional santos, bultos, altares, and retablos. He uses these same forms and media to construct scenes that protest the destruction of the high plains deserts by over-construction and water-wasting golf courses, the President’s war in Iraq, and the nuclear programs at Los Alamos.
  • In southern France, Peter Grieve, a well-respected British contemporary artist, covers his own elaborately carved animals with printed tin. These works are Grieve’s tribute to the animals he witnessed in Africa in their threatened natural habitat. The pieces share an influence from the recycled tinwork seen throughout southern Africa and represent the artist’s maverick turn from the contemporary arts scene.
  • In the mountainous regions of Michocán, the Purepecha people still celebrate feast days like Noche de Ánima (which is, in some regions, referred to as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead) – combining the ancient traditions of their own communities with the mediating forces of the Catholic Church five centuries ago. At the same time, in the days following 9-11, these same artists made clay depictions of the twin towers, to express and understand the horror of events thousands of miles away. They have also made depictions of Ebola scourges and killer bee attacks on other continents. They learn about these events from penny papers and satellite television.
  • Self-taught San Antonio artist and preacher, Reverend Seymour Perkins, carves and/or paints on found objects including tree stumps, table legs, window shades, canvas, and paper to tell the forgotten stories of African-American history in contemporary society, to protest the moral decay in the modern era, to honor his slain daughter, and to recognize the victims and villains of wars past and present.

We at San Angel Folk Art see history as an ongoing process. We recognize that our artists speak to both past and present. We understand the development of the modern is ongoing and many-faceted. Sadly, some curators locate folk art as pre-modern, or post-colonial, or early modern, arbitrarily declaring the end of the genuine as coinciding with the paving of a road or the introduction of television. We resist this definition. Despite the boundary-changing forces of globalism, there are places where artistic expression plays an important role – indeed perhaps the key role – in the historically informed ritual and expressive lives of local communities.

Perhaps it is more important and exciting to observe how communities are able to mediate the modern with the traditional through folk expressions. We continue to seek alliances with artists, curators, galleries, and collectors who share this view. Most recently, we were inspired by the 2004-4005 Carnival Show curated by Barbara Mauldin for the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. This show depicts the importance and vitality of eight contemporary Carnival celebrations to rural and urban communities in Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America.

The Importance of the Contemporary

One of the most provocative statements we can make is that we recognize folk art as an important form of contemporary art – an art that employs the traditions, skills, and practices of the past, while allowing for the innovations of the present. We believe that folk art is long overdue for its recognition as one of the most significant influences of contemporary or modern art. Artists such as Picasso, Dubuffet, Rivera, Tamayo, and even contemporary artists have long drawn their influences directly from the work of folk artists. For that reason, San Angel Folk Art has never shied from supporting the work of emerging contemporary artists, including Cisco Jimenez, Victoria Suescum, Chuck Ramirez, Alex De Leon, Scooter of the Tenderloin, and Chris Ake. Our broad definition of folk art addresses and makes room for the work of each of these artists. Similarly, we continue to seek out other artists who are working closely in communities.

We Support Artists

Since its founding, the gallery has been an extension of Hank’s commitment and concern for the well-being and growth of living artists across the globe. Before the branding of "fair trade," we at San Angel Folk Art made it a point to work according to an ethos of respect and fairness. We believe this is humanizing relationship is important now, more than ever, when NAFTA and CAFTA have allowed for the exploitation of the world’s poor by the wealthy few. We maintain regular communication with our featured artists. We directly support their labors and lives through our ongoing financial commitments. We support grassroots movements and cooperatives that are part of African townships, Peruvian schools, Chiapas weavers, and Mexican families. All of these are true cooperative associations. We use our support to encourage artists’ growth, risk, and expression. We make it a point not to ask artists to make "what has worked in the past," but what "needs to be expressed today." We support the expressive products and practices that honor the individuals and the communities of artists worldwide.

A Final Word

We believe that art should be fun. As you browse through these pages, you will see that our work is diverse and our collection large. The gallery is arranged like a Victorian curiosity shop, (have a look!!) (have another look!!) where each turn provides a different vista and insight. You will also see evidence of humor or intrigue in the stories about each piece. Many of the comments are derived from our conversations with the artists. The stories they tell express the many lives and worlds represented at San Angel Folk Art. This website is a public archive of these works. We never hesitate to share these stories with visitors.

So enjoy. And call us, or just come by. We are open 7 days a week, 11 to 6.

Sincerely,

Hank, Leigh Anne, and Paul

San Angel Folk Art
Gallery Statement
Summer, 2005

 

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San Angel Folk Art Gallery
Voted "Best of San Antonio's Art Galleries" &
"Best Folk Art Collection in the U.S."

110 Blue Star
San Antonio, TX 78204

Located in Southtown
less than a mile from San Antonio's downtown attractions,
the Riverwalk and the Alamo

San Angel Folk Art

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(210) 226-6688
info@sanangelfolkart.com

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