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Meet Frederico Vigil, The Creator Of The Largest Concave Fresco in North America – Mundos De Mestizaje

When visiting the National Hispanic Cultural Center campus in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s easy to write-off the upside-down, bucket shape form rising from the ground. It stands alone with no distinguishing marks. There are no large crowds to hint at the remarkable secret hidden inside. Visitors will know they are in the right place when the gray asphalt and concrete beneath their feet morph into red—matching the building’s exterior.

Two, towering wood doors mark the entry into the nondescript building.

Credit: Courtesy of Ximena N. Larkin

When the doors swing open, it’s impossible to avoid looking up because the vibrant colors of the ceiling act as a magnet, drawing eyes upwards. Step into the 45-foot dome-shaped structure to get a better look, and there, in the small Southwest town of less than 1 million, the largest fresco painting in North America wraps around the ceiling.

El Torreón is the name of the structure which houses Mundos de Mestizaje.

Credit: Courtesy of Ximena N. Larkin

The larger-than-the-Sistine-Chapel fresco made by Frederico Vigil. It took the Santa Fe native almost three years to have it approved and 10 years to complete it. The aerial artwork depicts thousands of years of Hispanic and pre-Hispanic history. Depending on your cultural background, some iconography is easy to spot and place in history. If you’re Mexican, La Virgen de Guadalupe, a portrait of the beloved civil rights leader Benito Juárez and the eagle, serpent, and nopal from Mexico’s coat of arms will stand out. But walk around the room, or sit in one of the lounging chairs that allow visitors to tip back and view the work at 180 degrees, and soon you’ll realize there are hidden figures among the more popular markers of Mexican and Indigenous identity.

“I’m a mixed man with many different bloodlines,” Vigil says on a phone call. “I’m mestizo. I wanted to show the history of what that means.”

For the project, Vigil consulted with seven scholars on Mesoamerican and Spanish historical culture in order to create an accurate depiction of the past.

Credit: Courtesy of Ximena N. Larkin

He says that just by looking at the Iberian Peninsula, there’s a mix of Romans, Celts, Muslims, and Phoenicians which is all tied into Spanish identity. Then, with the Americas, there’s Maya, Aztec and Toltec. The history of these lines iS not linear. They overlap, intertwine and blend together in a dizzying ride that Vigil worked to bring to life in Mundos de Mestizaje. 

The purpose is to show the viewer how interconnected and far-reaching culture is. Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd is depicted sitting next to Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, a Medieval Torah scholar, and physician. Chacmool, the pre-Columbian sculpture found throughout Mesoamerica shares space with George Washington and an African slave. 

“There are no purebloods, we are all mixed—or perhaps the only people who can say they are of pure blood are the Amazons or indigenous tribes that have lived in isolation,” Vigil says. “When people begin to study the past, they realize we, as a society, are not genetically one thing.”

Vigil learned the art of fresco painting from Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Pope Dimitroff. The couple might not be household names outside of the art community, but their bosses were. Bloch and Dimitroff were assistants to the world-renowned Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. 

Vigil connected with the couple thanks to the Santa Fe Council for The Arts.

Credit: Courtesy of Ximena N. Larkin

The organization reached out to Vigil to gauge his interest in a scholarship learning from the pair. Now in their 70s, the two aging artists were making strides to ensure their knowledge was passed down to a new generation of creators. Art lessons were accompanied by tales of the past that included Kahlo, Rivera, and friends such as Leon Trotsky. There, he learned the complicated and time-consuming process of fresco painting.

A surface is rough plastered with a mix of lime, sand, and cement. On average, a layer takes 10-12 hours to dry. A painter can go to work an hour into the drying process and usually has between seven to nine hours of time to complete their design. The art then needs 7-10 days between coats. If the painter messes up, they have to scrape off the layers and begin again.

“I’m a procrastinator but when the wall is wet, you have to paint,” says Vigil. “Each painting is a new experience. It doesn’t get old.”

Vigil is currently working on a new 2,500-plus square foot monumental fresco at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Credit: Courtesy of Ximena N. Larkin

His new work tells the tale of New Mexico’s history as the oldest state in the U.S. to produce wine. He says the piece could take four to six years to complete. He’s currently in his second year.

The hours for the Torreón (where the fresco is housed) are Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 p.m., plus it is open by appointment, which can be scheduled with Juanita Ramírez at Juanita.ramirez@state.nm.us or 505-383-4774. The NHCC presents concerts in the Torreón in partnership with the Pimentel & Sons Guitar Makers. The Torreón is available for rentals under certain circumstances and with some restrictions. 

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