Denver artist Carlos Frésquez sees historic painting preserved
With their recent designation among America’s 11 Most Endangered Places, Colorado’s Chicano murals benefit from recognition and renewal.
At the corner of 47th Avenue and High Street, north of Interstate 70, resides a large mural painted by Carlos Frésquez. When he painted “Night of the Barrio Moon” in 1992, he thought it would probably be destroyed someday.
“I always knew when I created these murals that they were temporal,” said Frésquez, a professor in the Department of Art at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “People viewed the murals as glorified folk art. For me, the joy comes from the making of art and the creative process. I’m not focused on its longevity.”
Without protection, Chicano murals such as Frésquez’s are often destroyed when buildings’ ownership changes hands. But now, a grassroots effort started by Lucha Martinez de Luna and supported by MSU Denver Art Professor Jillian Mollenhauer, Ph.D., has landed Colorado’s Chicano murals on the 2022 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places, and restorations are already underway.
“These are historically important pieces that reflect the issues and successes of various points in time,” said Mollenhauer. “We knew it was vital to save these wonderful pieces, as gentrification was leading to the destruction and defacing of our heritage murals.”
The Murals Project is creating a database of these public murals around the state. So far, they’ve identified approximately 40 legacy murals.
Martinez de Luna submitted the database and the Murals Project’s protection efforts to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which selected them for the list of America’s Most Endangered Sites. The designation — representing the first time murals have been included — helps raise awareness of the artwork and its historical significance.
“Media presence, fundraising opportunities both locally and nationally, and partnership requests have all begun to come our way because of the designation,” said Mollenhauer.
For example, the Murals Project has begun collaborating with the Social and Public Art Resource Center in Los Angeles, whose mission is to produce, preserve and promote activist and socially relevant artwork, especially in communities that face marginalization or discrimination. SPARC recently developed a protective clear coat for street murals called Mural Shield. The Murals Project, with funding from Historic Denver, used it to preserve “Night of the Barrio Moon” at 47th and High.
“(Mural Shield) made it pop and brought out the colors,” Frésquez said. “I’m honored and excited to see the piece protected.”
He added that his family was among the region’s first settlers in the 1500s.
“These murals show we have been here a long time,” Frésquez said. “I hope they help people change and transform and teach respect. We are not newcomers, and we belong here as much as anyone else.”
Mollenhauer noted that the Murals Project also works with contemporary art and artists, such as the late Alicia Cardenas.
“The beautiful mural by artist Alicia Cardenas on the corner of 27th and Larimer is an iconoclast statement about the Covid pandemic period,” Mollenhauer said. “(Cardenas) is gone — if someone whitewashes her mural, it’s gone forever. It’s at the top of our list for preservation.”
Editor’s note: Cardenas and Martinez de Luna will be honored at the “Return of the Corn Mothers” exhibition’s opening reception, which celebrates Indigenous women of the Southwest, at History Colorado on Oct. 21.