‘Olmec Trails’ to celebrate the ancient art of Mexico in DuPage County

‘Olmec Trails’ to celebrate the ancient art of Mexico in DuPage County

Leaders of the DuPage Mexican Cultural Center, the College of DuPage Public Art Project and the DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau announced the summer cultural event: “Olmec Trails: Culture and Heritage” on Thursday. More than 30 artists from across North America will contribute to the exhibition.
Sandy Bressner/Shaw Local News Network

Fernando Ramirez allows himself to think too much.

He dreamed up an exhibit of monumental alebrijes, the larger-than-life creatures painted by Mexican artists at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

Ramirez is now one of the driving forces behind the next major exhibit coming to DuPage County this summer: “Olmec Trails: Culture and Heritage.”

Sculptures inspired by the colossal heads of the ancient Olmec civilization will turn heads when the hand-painted pieces are installed on the College of DuPage campus, forest preserves and host cities across the county.

“Olmec Trails: Culture and Heritage” features intricately painted renderings of Mesoamerican sculptures. This head sculpture was painted by Jazzamoart, an artist from the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.
Courtesy of DuPage Mexican Cultural Center

Nearly three dozen artists — 15 are from Mexico — are using large-scale replicas of Olmec monoliths as their canvases. Ramirez visited Mexico last December to see their work unfold.

“That will really tell the story. We learned this the hard way. The artists are the ones who tell the story,” said Ramirez, president and founder of the DuPage Mexican Cultural Center.

The Olmec civilization developed around present-day Veracruz, Mexico, before the Mayans and Aztecs. Some scholars consider the Olmec society the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica. Using primitive tools, the Olmecs carved their colossal heads out of stone. The multi-toned stone sculptures that the Olmec artists left behind have hoods, flat noses, thick lips, and far-set eyes. Their facial expressions change. Some appear to be smiling.

The sculptures in “Olmec Trails” are made of fiberglass, but still impressive. Eighteen artists from across the United States will arrive in May to paint Olmec heads at the Mexican Cultural Center in West Chicago and COD’s McAninch Center for the Arts in Glen Ellyn.

Nine of the Olmec heads will be displayed on the grounds of the community college and around its prairies. Other sculptures will be installed outdoors throughout the county, so it’s “free and accessible to everyone and in nature where it belongs,” said Diana Martinez, director of the McAninch Arts Center.

Diana Martinez, director of the McAninch Center for the Arts, announces “Olmec Trails: Culture and Heritage” with DuPage Mexican Cultural Center President and Founder Fernando Ramirez. The outdoor exhibit is a collaboration between the DuPage Mexican Cultural Center, Meztli Mexico, the College of DuPage Public Art Project and the DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Sandy Bressner/Shaw Local News Network

Martinez joined other College of DuPage leaders and county tourism officials Thursday in announcing the Olmec Trails. While Ramirez says he is one of the “facilitators,” Martinez made it clear, “This is Fernando’s project and this was his idea.”

It also “aligned perfectly” with the College of DuPage Public Art Project, an initiative led by Martinez to bring murals and other public art and events to communities in DuPage.

“To me, I think accessibility is a great gift and a great opportunity, but it’s going to take a village to make it happen,” Martinez said at Thursday’s gathering on the college campus, inviting more cities to serve as a host for “Olmec Trails sculptures”.

Justin Witte, curator of the college’s Cleve Carney Art Museum, will also create an educational exhibit in the lobby of the McAninch Arts Center where “anyone can come for free to learn more about this rich history” of the Olmec civilization. An “Olmec Trails” launch party at the lakeside pavilion behind the art center is set for June 30.

Among the participating visual artists is Juan Chawuk, a muralist from Chiapas, Mexico, whose work can be seen on the Supermercado Tampico building in West Chicago. Other contributing artists will explore their Mexican heritage and “what the Olmecs mean to them,” Ramirez said.

“It is an honor to work with them through my many partners,” he said.

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