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Empowering our Community
for a Brighter Future.

Updated: Oct 30, 2023



Article Published by Rocky Mountain PBS



SAN LUIS VALLEY — An exhibit opening Thursday at the Arvada Center focuses on a traditional fiber art form brought to New Mexico and Southern Colorado by Spanish colonists — and still practiced today.


Colcha Embroidery of the San Luis Valley” includes the work of 34 multi-generational artists from Colorado’s south-central counties and is on display through November 12.

Nine of the 47 colcha embroidery pieces were unearthed from storage this year within the Arvada Center’s collection.


They were previously thought to be missing after a 1982 fiber arts exhibition at the Arvada Center, “Artists of the San Luis Valley.” The 1982 exhibit featured colcha embroidery work from many of the region’s prominent working colcha embroidery artists and was organized in part by the Virginia Neal Blue Resource Center for Colorado Women, a Denver foundation that centered rural economic opportunity by attempting to create and bolster local cottage industries.


Artists and their families say they were not invited to the 1982 show, and in fact didn’t know it had taken place. In 1983, at least nine of the colcha embroidery works from the show were purchased by the Arvada Center from the Virginia Neal Blue group. Just this spring, Exhibition Manager and Associate Curator Emily Grace King happened to find a box containing the wrapped works.


Now on display, the nine pieces from the 1982 exhibition will be deaccessioned by the City of Arvada and returned to the artists and surviving family members, Arvada Center Director of Galleries and Curator Collin Parson and President and CEO Philip C. Sneed said in a meeting with artist representatives in July.


The Arvada Center has sales receipts totaling $280 for the nine works ranging from $15 to $90. It is unknown if the artists were paid. The Virginia Neal Blue group, responsible for selling the works, often did not return unsold art, compensate artists or provide records for institutions or collectors that purchased artworks, artists and their families say. Decades later, colcha embroidery artists and their descendants still wonder what happened to the other missing works and if they, too, could be found and returned alongside the Arvada Center’s collection.


Exhibit co-curator and Saguache colcha embroidery artist Adrienne Garbini has been instrumental in locating and recovering the lost works, and in communicating with families to connect the dots to return them.


The colcha embroidery artists in the 1980s exhibit “were not centered in the work, because they weren’t included. They weren’t invited,” Garbini said. “We’re hoping to open a new chapter with colcha embroidery artists and the Arvada Center.”


Garbini is still searching for other works created under the Virginia Neal Blue Foundation. Garbini said other works may exist elsewhere in museums or personal collections within Colorado — or beyond. She is currently compiling a website of the missing pieces.


The loss or theft of artwork created mistrust and trauma in the community, Garbini acknowledged.


“It deflated some people to such a degree that they stopped entirely working in colcha embroidery, and there was a lot of hurt. There became the sense that they no longer wanted to participate in these types of outside programs,” she said. “The biggest issue was that it left a wake of trauma in Saguache.”


Still, many of these women and their descendants carry on the tradition, creating art work and practicing colcha embroidery in their communities today.


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Join us this fall at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities for a special exhibition of colcha embroidery from the San Luis Valley. Colcha Embroidery of the San Luis Valley will be on view from September 14 to November 12, 2023 with an opening reception on Thursday September 14, from 6-9pm. This exhibition will be on view in conjunction with Emilio Lobato: A Mi Manera and Latitude 37°: Art of Southern Colorado. Colcha Embroidery of the San Luis Valley will bring together a large selection of artworks on loan from artists, families, and museums across Colorado. The exhibition is curated by Adrienne Garbini of The Range in Saguache, Colorado. On Thursday September 14 at 5pm in the Arvada Center Theatre Gallery there will be a talk with participating artists and families.


Colcha Embroidery of the San Luis Valley will include works by living and deceased artists, celebrating the vibrant history of this art practice in communities across the Valley. Artists include Mary Baker, Maria Eufemia Barela, Sandy Dolak, Adrienne Garbini, Patsy Garcia, Peggy Garcia Williams, Margie Gurule, Josephine Lobato, Rita Lobato Crespin, Virginia

'Bena' Lovato, Brenda Lovato, Loretta Rose Lujan, Donna Madrid Hernandez, Connie Mamich Morrell, Aurora Martinez, Junita Martinez, Lydia Martinez, Irene Medina, Julia Mondragon, Mary Olivas, Daisy Ortega, Evanea Rae Pacheco, Marcella Pacheco, Marcella Quintana, Nettie Quintana, Virginia Rodriquez, Sostena Sandoval Clevens, Trent Segura, Mary Taylor, Tiva Trujillo, Tina Valdez, Judy Vigil, Mary Vigil de Rodriguez, and Delores Worley.


The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities first featured colcha embroidery at their 1982 exhibition Las Artistas del Valle de San Luis. Nine artworks from this exhibition will be on view in Colcha Embroidery of the San Luis Valley. The City of Arvada purchased these colcha embroideries from the Virginia Neal Blue Foundation. The location and purchase of these colcha embroideries was unknown to the artists. It is not documented that the artists were compensated for these artworks. The City of Arvada and The Arvada Center hope to offer healing and restoration to this community through the return of these artworks to the artists and families of the artists that made them after the conclusion of Colcha Embroidery of the San Luis Valley.


The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd Arvada, CO 80003.

Partner organizations participating in the exhibition include Chicano Humanities and Arts Council, HEART of Saguache, History Colorado, The Range, Sangré de Cristo Heritage Center, and Sisters of Color United for Education. The Range is an art space located in Saguache in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The Range has partnered with HEART of Saguache on the San Luis Valley Colcha Embroidery Project since 2018.


On Sunday August 6, 2023 HEART of Saguache hosted a community BBQ to welcome new AmeriCorps members to the Valley, in partnership with Alpine Achievers. These young teachers will be living in communities in the Valley and providing support to all ages of students at our schools. This important program has enriched education in the Valley for many years, and it is with gratitude for these individuals and administrators that HEART celebrates a new year of the program by bringing community members together to meet the volunteers.

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