A Vision of La Virgen: Interview with Ferguz, Mexico City’s Pintor Espiritual

translation by Ivan Perez

Felipe Gonzalez, known in the art world of Mexico City as Ferguz, is one of millions of North Americans inspired by the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe, but his fine art pushes the world-famous Mexican icon to its limits. Using a variety of media to create shimmering minimalistic variations on the traditional image, Ferguz’s work is a captivating dance of color, texture and historical context. An example of his approach appears in the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s newest exhibit, La Virgen of Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas. When Ferguz came to see it in context during opening weekend, we jumped at the chance to sit down and ask him about his work.

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HMNS: Tell us about the piece of art that you have in the exhibit.

Ferguz: It is a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe that I painted from my point of view. The painting has a base color of Mexican pink or a type of fuchsia, which I mixed with gold to represent the splendor of the Virgin, and towards the bottom of the painting where the cherub is located, I added my self-portrait as a way to integrate myself into the painting. It was a way for me to make the piece more contemporary and also more minimalistic.

HMNS: Why is la Virgen de Guadalupe so inspirational to you? Why did you choose to paint la Virgen?

Ferguz: She’s always been an inspiration to me. I believe that Mexican Catholicism is really strong, as is the faith that is evoked by her, and as the saying goes, “Faith can move mountains.” I’ve always been attracted to religious and spiritual themes, and my art has always reflected that.

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HMNS: How does it feel to have your work in a museum, especially in a natural science museum?

Ferguz: It is a huge privilege and an honor that I have been asked to have my work shown here. This is a huge and well-known museum and it is an honor to be here during the opening.

HMNS: Is HMNS well-known in Mexico?

Ferguz: Yes, everyone knows this museum because of the dinosaurs and the T. rex and because of the big exhibitions that come through.

HMNS: Do you feel that a more Hispanic population will be attracted to the museum with la Virgen de Guadalupe being here?

Ferguz: Yes, I believe so. It’s a theme that, in Latin America, is followed by many people. The opening date, and the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, is also very special, which coincides with my birthday, Dec. 12. This is one of the reasons why La Virgen is such an inspiration to me. So yes, I believe that the Hispanic community will have a positive response, and I hope that this exhibit will attract them to museums, so it’s really good that the museum has decided to talk about this subject during this important date and to this community, which is very large.

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HMNS: Can you tell us about the process for your artwork? What materials do you use and what makes your artwork special?

Ferguz: The piece is oil on canvas and it’s a process that I enjoy tremendously. I enjoy the work that is involved, and I have been doing art for over 10 years professionally and I am totally dedicated to it. I am proud of my work, and I am proud to be here showing it.

HMNS: Can you tell us a little more? How do you come up with the ideas?

Ferguz: I work with sketches, but Picasso said that inspiration should come to you when you are in the process. When I am working on one piece, I get inspiration for the next one. When I developed this piece for La Virgen, but with my voice, from my point of view it was a win because I love the topic and I wanted to do it. I wanted to do something contemporary, but with a minimalist point of view. I also wanted to use a base color of Mexican pink with the incorporation of the Virgin and I wanted to include myself in the piece and be a part of this exhibition, so I included a self-portrait that expresses the innocence of childhood and a time when humanity still feels a deeper sense of spirituality, which is why I decided to include myself in the painting.

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HMNS: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ferguz: I would like to thank the museum for this great opportunity. Thank you very much.

La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas is now open, and Ferguz’s work is available for purchase in the Museum Store.

HMNS Winter Trend Report: La Virgen de Guadalupe

Sourcing product for special exhibits is one of the favorite things about my job, but as a lover of Mexican art and culture, La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas has been especially fun.

This summer, we traveled to Mexico City and met with officials at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The ancient basilica and chapels are beautiful, and seeing the art, both fine and folk, in context punctuated how meaningful the Virgin has been to so many lives and how integral she is to the culture.

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Capilla del Pocito – Chapel of the Little Well.

With this in mind, we met with the Basilica’s retail director and chose some very special items to bring to the museum’s store. These rose petal rosaries made by nuns are deeply scented.

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Scented rosaries made by nuns.

Our talented Creative Director, Kim Bloedorn, designed our beautiful souvenirs including mugs, refrigerator magnets, 3D postcards, bookmarks and more, featuring Her image surrounded by roses.

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Graphic design by HMNS Creative Director Kim Bloedorn.

Rising young artist Felipe Gonzalez Aguilera, AKA Ferguz, is rapidly gaining a reputation for his sensitive portraiture of iconic figures. One of Ferguz’s compelling paintings of the Virgin will be in the exhibit on loan from a private collector. We had the opportunity to visit the artist in his studio and were able to commission some paintings the he created especially for the store. The photos do not do justice to the delicate colors and brushstrokes.

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Fine art by Felipe Gonzalez Aguilera, AKA Ferguz.

Mexico is known for its vibrant folk art and traditional craftwork. Detailed, hand-painted and punched tin nichos from San Miguel de Allende highlight images of the Virgin.

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Nicho by San Miguel de Allende.

Traditional, brightly-embroidered blouses are from artisans in Oaxaca, Puebla, and Hidalgo.

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Itzel white blouse.

Weaving has been a part of the culture and livelihood of the Zapotec people since about 5000 B.C. The Spanish conquest introduced wool fiber and the standing loom and the weaving process and designs have changed little to this day. Ancient art meets contemporary design in these handmade purses.

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Zapotec tote.

Closer to home, I worked with local designer Rebecca Lankford to create a series of rosary-inspired necklaces. Rebecca’s faith is a large influence on her work and she was delighted to create jewelry that references how religion and design have been intertwined since humans first created art.

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Ruby rosary necklace by Rebecca Lankford.

We have more handicrafts, souvenirs and art available in-store and online at museumstore.hmns.org. All proceeds from store sales go back to the museum and enable us to create these unique exhibits and educational programs.

La Virgen de Guadalupe appears in Houston this weekend in a spectacular new exhibition

Quilts. Statues. Blankets. Street art. Devotional candles. Tattoos. In the Americas, you can find the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe almost anywhere, in any form. Her image represents not only a great miracle but the identity of a nation of believers. And this weekend you can trace the story back to its origins—only at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas opens this Friday, Dec. 11.

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La Virgen de Guadalupe, also known as La Virgen Morena, appears in this 17th-century painting.

In collaboration with the Basilíca de Guadalupe, the limited engagement exhibit features the iconic image of the Virgin in its many forms. Her fascinating history begins in 8th-century Spain and ends in modern North and South America. In between is a complex story of deep faith, conquest and conversion.

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A screen opens the exhibit and tells the story of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire through its panels.

According to deeply held beliefs, La Virgen de Guadalupe, also called La Virgen Morena to some, appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 near the hill of Tepayac outside the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán. Juan Diego, an indigenous Catholic, fought to convince the bishop of what he’d seen, sharing a message from the Virgin to build a church where she had made her appearance. Juan Diego was met with doubt until he brought back roses growing out of season at the top of the hill, carrying them wrapped in his tilma, or cloak. When he poured the flowers from his tilma at the feet of the bishop, the image of the Virgin was left behind in the fabric, providing proof of the miracle and convincing the bishop to have the church built.

Through the next four centuries, the popularity of the Virgin of Guadalupe pushed her beyond religious symbolism and into the culture of Mexico and the Americas. Today, she symbolizes New World Catholicism as well as peace, hope and comfort to her followers.

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After almost 500 years, the Virgin of Guadalupe still resonates in the Americas, captured as a cultural symbol in artistic expressions of devotion like these statues.

“Regardless of your personal take on this story, we invite visitors to the exhibition to consider the history and reality surrounding the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Curator of Anthropology at HMNS. 

The show features an authorized reproduction of the image of Virgin; the original manuscript of the Nican Mophua, an Aztec-language document that recounts the story of the apparition and part of the collections of the New York Public Library; an 18th-century painting of the Virgin said to have touched the original image in the Basílica in Mexico City; the Doctrina Christiana, one of the first books printed in Mexico dating back to 1553, on loan from the Benson Library at The University of Texas at Austin; and artistic expressions of contemporary devotion to the Virgin.

Information panels are printed in both English and Spanish, and an audio guide will be accessible by cell phone. Tickets on sale now.

The (Real) First Thanksgiving: the Wampanoag Perspective

Most of us know the story. Seeking a place to establish a Puritan church, the Pilgrims arrive on the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and have a hard winter, so the Indians teach them how to grow their own food over the next year. The following harvest, they hold a huge feast to honor the Indians with turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie and celebrate their new-found friends and the peace between them, and we’ve kept that tradition ever since. But most of this isn’t true, and every tale has more than one perspective.

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Our storybook version, featuring a giant turkey, grapes, and a majority of Pilgrims.

To the Wampanoag, the Native American people who aided the Pilgrims, things happened in a very different way. Their story begins like this. The Wampanoag had seen whites before, but when the English Pilgrims arrived with women and children, they didn’t see them as a threat. The winter was hard, that is true. From hiding, the Wampanoag watched 46 of the original 102 settlers perish from cold and hunger. March 16 the following year, a Monhegan from Maine named Samoset made contact with the Pilgrims, and the next day returned with Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, a Wampanoag who had learned English. Squanto befriended the English and taught them how to fish, how to plant corn, and how to hunt for nuts and berries. As a result of their friendship, the Pilgrims entered into a peace treaty with Massassoit, the Wampanoag chief, and heeded the advice of their new friends.

In September or October, their crops had a good yield, and they decided to hold a traditional English harvest feast. Historians draw the story of the first thanksgiving from two accounts, one of which was written by Pilgrim Edward Winslow. His account mentions the Pilgrims “sent four men on fowling,” meaning bird hunting, and that “we exercised our arms,” meaning gun fire. These men did hunt for “turkey,” but the word referred to any kind of bird, not necessarily the centerpiece of the contemporary Thanksgiving table.

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A more accurate representation, but still featuring a turkey at the center of the table and just six Wampanoag.

The Wampanoag weren’t invited to this feast originally, according to Tim Turner, Cherokee, manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite and co-owner of Native Plymouth Tours.

“Most historians believe what happened was Massassoit got word there was a tremendous amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village,” Turner said, “so he thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.”

Massassoit came with 90 of his warriors, prepared to do battle. Since there was none, the Pilgrims invited their new friends to their feast. However, there wasn’t enough to feed everyone, so the warriors went out and brought back five deer, their contribution, according to Kathleen Wall, Colonial Foodways Culinarian at Plimouth Plantation.

The feast lasted three days and likely included pumpkin, fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams and plums in addition to the poultry and venison. There was no flour, so likely no pies or pastries. We can and should imagine a warm, three-day feast between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims, a picture of unlikely togetherness and a celebration that marks a large part of the American identity, but consider that there were 91 Indians and around 50 Pilgrims. Re-think that long table surrounded by settlers with a few Indians thrown in, and forget that it was annual tradition.

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This representation is the most accurate, featuring a majority of Wampanoag, no turkey, and a large gathering.

Thanksgiving had been proclaimed by governors and presidents in the 13 colonies at one time or another, but as the country grew, many U.S. citizens didn’t feel it was appropriate. It wasn’t until magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned for the national holiday in her writing, an effort bordering on obsession. For 40 years, Hale pushed for the establishment of a Thanksgiving Day, publishing editorials in Boston Ladies’ Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book. (Incidentally, she is also the author of the children’s song Mary Had a Little Lamb.)Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving, but it still wasn’t what we celebrate today.

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Sarah Josepha Hale

During Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, the holiday was pushed forward a week to create a longer Christmas shopping season, but public uproar convinced him to move it back to its original date. In 1941, Congress named Thanksgiving Day a legal holiday, the fourth Thursday in November.

This Thanksgiving, and every Thanksgiving following it, give gratitude for this wonderful country we live in. Enjoy your family. Enjoy your friends. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and all the things and people you have in your life. Give thanks for whatever fortune has bestowed upon you this year. Give thanks to those who fought and died to build this nation. Give thanks for being American, a wonderful, unique identity. Love your neighbor. Offer second chances. Make a new friend. Try to understand someone better. Buy things. Watch football. Because that’s what this holiday is all about.

But most of all, remember the whole story.

For more about the lives of indigenous Americans, visit the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas. From our table to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!