Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.
Last week, I had the opportunity to see a Tomas Bustos sculpture at the Bath House Cultural Center’s group show, “Sweet Acrobatics: An Artistic Study of Motion,” and I wanted to hear about the Dallas native’s latest projects. The master woodcarver and sculptor has created quite a legacy and continues to work across the city and globe. He invited me into his studio, Fine Arts Sculpture Studio, to see his latest endeavors.
Tina Aguilar: The Vaquero takes my breath away – you are almost ready for the foundry, right? This project has been in the works for a while, and to see behind the scenes with the mold preparations stimulates the senses. What is happening with this Fort Worth collaboration?
Tomas Bustos: The Vaquero Project, a life-size sculpture of a Mexican cowboy to be placed on Main Street down from the Stockyards, is progressing and soon we should have the folks from Bryant Art Foundry visit the studio. As you know, this public commission started in 2005 with the community and former Fort Worth City Councilman Jim Lane and current Councilman Sal Espino. This sculpture honors the Mexican cowboy and his contributions to the area. David Newton, friend and fellow sculptor, asked me to collaborate on the project with him. David did great work with the Freedman’s Memorial, and I knew we could work well together. We have enjoyed the process and look forward to the next phase.
T. A.: When did sculpture and art come into the picture?
T. B.: Drawing is something I have done from a very young age. When I was in the 6th grade, I entered a piece in a scholastic art show at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Fair Park and, to my surprise, I was accepted. It felt good to see my art on the walls. In addition, I learned that I had won 2nd place and a $25 gift certificate to Asel Art. I went right out and bought some pencils and supplies. Later, in high school, my teachers started telling me to put away the pencils and to pick up the paintbrush. I guess in their minds I had mastered my drawing pretty well. But the brush has a different feel, and I did not like it as much at first. My colored drawings led to watercolor, acrylic and, finally, oils, and they all behave differently…watercolors are loose and you have to learn to work with them – instead of trying to control the situation.
T. A.: Then what happened?
T. B.: When I was in high school, I worked in ceramics and I was doing it about four hours a day. You know, I used to skip study hall, lunch and P.E. and then have art. This was amazing, and I learned how to throw and fire the kiln and mix glazes … Then I wanted to do more than pottery and I had a break through meeting my mentor, Octavio Medellin, sculptor and founder of the Creative Arts Center (CAC). My high school art teacher wanted to take me to meet someone in Oak Cliff, and he took me one weekend. For this meeting I went prepared with a portfolio and let him take a look at it. He told me I had talent and I should take classes with him. Well, I was still in high school and could not afford to take classes and told him so. He said I was welcome to apprentice with him at no charge, but he said, “You have to help the ladies here, mow the lawn, and help out in general.” It was great because I had access to his guidance, studio and all the proper equipment. The CAC still serves the North Texas area, and I am still teaching there today.
T. A.: This was quite an entry into the inner sanctum of what it means to be an artist. I see how you have carried on the tradition in your own studio. Tell me about your space here.
T. B.: Yes, Octavio literally opened his studio to me. He trusted me, and that caused me to have respect for him. I apprenticed with him for about seven years and started teaching classes, everything from wood carving, assisting with bronze molds and casting for the students, and doing stone carving. When we worked with kids, we were doing ceramics. One of the jewels there was that I worked with other artists – upcoming artists – and learned from all of them. In my own creative life I decided to open my own studio and share my space and time. On any Sunday we have people who work with clay, wood, stone and the beauty of it is the access to see others being creative and to learn. An artist doesn’t become an artist by himself. I remember when my mom put the pencil in my hand and held it to trace letters. You learn from other people and always learn something new. And, well, it’s been about 11 years now in this studio.
T. A.: So most people may not know about your connection to hospitals. Why hospitals, art, murals and kinetic sculptures?
T. B.: One of my beliefs is to give credit where credit is due … to those who have helped you. I learned mechanical animation when I worked with everyone at Bill Reed Decorations. This experience shaped my creative expression. It has a history from my first piece at the Scottish Rite Hospital in 1978 and continued with one of my recent commissions for the new Our Children’s House at Baylor Medical Center. This was a wonderful project to be involved with, and through the support of my art team – Genaro Hernandez, Elizabeth Amaro and Julio Cesar Flores – it all came together. At the Scottish Rite Hospital, when we were making sure everything was in order, I was getting responses from the doctors, mothers and patients. They would share how they had to come in for an X-ray, shot or procedure … and some were scared. I knew then that art has the power to carry us someplace else. Kinetic pieces in my eyes allow a person to ease the hospital experience. The Baylor commission includes murals, two nurse’s stations and an animated blimp. While children are in their beds, they can look up and see the murals and have different adventures.
T. A.: This month you’ll be at more than one location. One of the pieces at the Bath House Cultural Center is an airplane and full of exuberant expression, along with two bronze Aztec dancers. In addition to this, you were part of a jury team for the current “Hecho en Dallas” exhibition at the Latino Cultural Center (LCC).
T. B.: Along with artist/educator Tina B. Medina and gallery owner Gabrielle Casteñada Pruitt, I was honored to juror the exhibition at the LCC. The Center is really a jewel, and I hope we continue to allow artists to have an outlet to share their work. Collaborations like this foster our North Texas creative communities.
T. A.: Now that we have discussed your local imprints, I am saving the global connection for last – “Vive la France!”
T. B.: About a year and a half ago I received a call from a woman who was interested in a sculpture for a project overseas between the towns of Châteauroux and Déols. Jenelle Peterson, organizer of the Châteauroux Air Station Project, found my work online, contacted me and after we got acquainted I asked to meet her in person. This way she could see the studio and what we do here. One thing led to another, and her organization selected me to help them. In addition to this, I asked David Newton to partner with me. Ms. Peterson’s group represents those who grew up and went to school together while their parents were serving and working on the Châteauroux Air Station base from 1951-1967. The sculpture is in memory of the times they worked, played and went to school in the Berry region.
Tomas Bustos welcomes visitors to his studio, Fine Arts Sculpture Studio, on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. In June, he travels to France for the installation in the Berry region.