New Mexico’s hojalatero – or tinsmith – tradition dates back to Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821
BY LISA BARROW
On a hot tin nicho
Thanks to the efforts of researcher and author Maurice Dixon, an intriguing nuevomexicano art mystery has finally been solved.
The case is laid out in a new exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History (2000 Mountain NW). “The Artistic Odyssey of Higinio V. Gonzales: A Tinsmith and Poet in Territorial New Mexico” brings together artifacts including tin nichos, retablos and processional pieces, as well as examples of poetry and music all created by a prolific Santa Fe-born artist whose significance was nearly lost to history.
New Mexico’s hojalatero – or tinsmith – tradition dates back to Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821. With the advent of a thriving trade in canned foodstuffs between the U.S. and Mexico, savvy craftspeople began to reuse the metal containers for folksy décor like frames, boxes, chandeliers and crosses. They invested considerable ingenuity into their designs, forging punches, cutting shapes, hammering and soldering the tin and frequently applying glass and paint elements. Later, this plebian version of silversmithing fell out of favor with 20th-century decorators, and the underappreciated pieces became scattered and anonymous.
Extensive research in the public record and meticulous matching of unique tin-stamp “fingerprints” by art historian Dixon, who co-curates the museum’s exhibit with Deb Slaney, have revealed that a plethora of tinworks previously attributed to nameless tinsmiths in counties throughout northern New Mexico can actually be traced directly to one Higinio V. Gonzales (1842–1921), who also wrote poetry, composed corridos and taught school.
The history-opening exhibit runs through Apr. 4, 2016. Museum admission is $1 to $4, with plenty of opportunities to get in for free. For more information, stop by albuquerquemuseum.org or call 842-0111.
Lisa Barrow is a member of the Dirt City Writers collective. Visit her on the interwebs at facebook.com/LisaBarrowLikesWords. She most recently served as arts & lit and web editor at Weekly Alibi.