Festival poster artist Amado Peña’s work is a tribute to Native Americans

“Mestizo Series: El Chulo,” from Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival 2022 poster by Amado Peña, acrylic gouache on canvas, 10×20 inches. (Courtesy of Amado Peña’s studio)

Amado Peña grew up on a South Texas ranch doodling sketches of cows, corrals, windmills and animals.

Born in Laredo, Texas, this drawing impulse led him to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the US State Department’s Art in Embassies collection.

This weekend, fans can see his work in person at the Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival: Balloon Fiesta Show at Sandia Resort & Casino. He is also this year’s poster artist.

The annual festival features works by 200 artists from across the United States, from Thursday, September 30 through Sunday, October 2, and October 6 through October 9. Buyers can choose from painting, sculpture, woodworking, textiles, glass, pottery, leather, and photography. The large white festival tent runs alongside the Sandia Resort & Casino golf course. Visitors will find live music, cocktails, a food market, kids’ activities and more.

“Mestizo Series: Cuatro Bonitos”, Amado Peña, acrylic gouache on Gessobord, 22 × 30 inches. (Courtesy of Amado Peña’s studio)

Peña’s instantly recognizable works of art can be defined by vivid colors and shapes arranged in a dynamic composition. He counts places such as Canyon de Chelly, Spider Rock, Monument Valley, Enchanted Mesa, Acoma Pueblo and Black Mesa as sources of inspiration. His stylized paintings and prints often feature bold portraits of Aboriginal people, horses, and pottery.

Born to a Hispanic father and a Pascua Yaqui (Arizona) mother, Peña introduces himself as Mestizo. He worked as a teacher for 16 years in Texas before taking a leap of faith and opening his studio in Austin. He started showing his work at local festivals and fairs.

“My students always asked me if it was possible to make a living as a professional artist,” he said in a phone interview from Austin. “Of course, I hadn’t done that.

“I wanted to be more than an art teacher,” he added. “I always thought I was an artist.”

Six months later, it was selling well. Forty years ago, he moved to a ranch outside of Santa Fe, where he lives with his wife Judy Boles Peña, a textile artist and owner of Handwoven Originals.

“I started out as an engraver,” Peña said. “I had the ability to do multiples. It was a medium that was unique. It was a medium that the others did not practice.

“I did my own printing,” he said, instead of working with a master printer. “I went from screen printing to intaglio via lithography.

By the mid-1980s, Peña had established studios producing all three mediums.

Amado Peña at work. (Courtesy of Amado Peña’s studio)

“I just enjoy creating new, fresh and exciting imagery,” Peña said. “They don’t need to have a story; it’s already there.

Rio Grande organizers chose his painting of a woman on horseback for this year’s poster.

“She’s my niece on one of our horses,” he said. “I was surprised they chose that one. There were a lot of other images that were very strong.

His paintings of native women and their pottery are a tribute.

“These are portraits of who they are; the fact that they are artisans,” said Peña. “The pottery is a tribute to Pueblo pottery. It’s a mix of a lot of different resources.

Peña has taught in his hometown of Laredo as well as Crystal City and Austin, Texas. He continues to teach in the Studio Art League program at Alexander High School in Laredo and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas College of Education. He has been a speaker at many national conferences on education.

Peña’s art celebrates the strength of a people who face the harsh realities of life in a land without compromise, and his work is a tribute to Native Americans who survive by living in harmony with a hostile and untamed environment.

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