Contingent to join in parade; artist to sell prints of her work at Lithia Artisans Market
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
The artist who painted the large mural towering over Ashland Creek on the outside of the building housing Skout Taphouse is in town as part of a contingent visiting from Guanajuato, Ashland’s sister city of over 50 years.
Guanajuato artist Laura “Loreta” Rangel Villaseñor created the “Las Calles de Guanajuato” (“The Streets of Guanajuato”), the 24-foot tall by 53-foot wide mural depicting Guanajuato, while an Ashland artist traveled to the Mexican city to create a mural there depicting Ashland.
Villaseñor’s mural is on Calle Guanajuato, the pedestrian walkway running along Ashland Creek behind the buildings facing on Ashland Plaza. That’s where she’ll join dozens of other vendors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, selling their artwork.
Villaseñor, who is self-taught, generally sells her prints in the 19th century Teatro Juarez (Juarez Theater) in Guanajuato but is in town for the Fourth of July festivities, along with a group from Ashland’s sister city. The group visiting Ashland this week plans to see the local area and participate in the Fourth of July parade and festivities.
This reporter sat down with Villaseñor at a cafe in Guanajuato in August 2022 during a visit by Southern Oregon University’s administration to the city to talk about the Ashland mural, the city of Guanajuato and its strong ties with Ashland.
The cities of Ashland and Guanajuato have had a sister city partnership since 1969. SOU and University of Guanajuato also have an exchange partnership for students, giving them the chance to live and study immersed in a new culture in both Ashland and Guanajuato.
Villaseñor’s daughter studied in Ashland for a year, further solidifying her relationship with the southern Oregon city.
“I was born in a little town outside Guanajuato called Silao,” Villaseñor said.
She grew up in a family of non-artists, but had aunts who were poets and writers.
“For me, I never imagined I would be painting in my life,” Villaseñor said.
For the first part of her life, her beloved art form was ballet. Only later on did her art involve paint.
“I came to live here in Guanajuato in 1992 and I got married (to) a painter, and after 15 years of living with him, I realized I wanted to say something through the paint,” she said.
Villaseñor started thinking about and reflecting to find her “words” — the words she wanted to say — through the art of painting.
She explored the use of pastels, which became “My beautiful way of expressing myself,” she said.
Though Villaseñor is now known for painting vibrantly colorful scenes from the city of Guanajuato, that wasn’t always her preferred theme.
Villaseñor started by painting houses, fruit, trees and flowers.
She began selling her original artwork on the streets of Guanajuato more than 20 years ago.
Her artistic philosophy was simply to convey her intentions and to let her emotions flow through her brush, like a language.
“I just put it on the paper as I feel it,” Villaseñor said.
“I love doing this, but I never imagined I was going to be a painter,” Villaseñor added.
About three years into painting, she was asked if she would paint the city of Guanajuato.
“I just (tried) it and the people like it,” Villaseñor said.
The mural of Ashland in Guanajuato was painted by Ashland artist Denise Baxter. The piece depicts SOU, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, local wineries and the vibrant culture of Ashland. The piece also includes sister city founder Chela Tapp-Kocks, simply known as “Señora Chela” inside a flower.
Villaseñor met Señora Chela while selling her artwork in Guanajuato.
“She asked me for a painting,” Villaseñor said.
Villaseñor’s ties to Ashland grew from there.
The Ashland mural of Guanajuato depicts the Mexican state’s capital city, with the Mercado (market), the Teatro Juarez, and University of Guanajuato, and the Basilica Colegiata de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato (Our Lady of Guanajuato), built in the late 1600s.
The mural was sponsored by Ashland residents Kathryn and Barry Thalden. The couple visited Guanajuato in 2015. They had already sponsored a mural at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank and were looking to sponsor another, according to an article published in 2021 by Walk Ashland.
“When visiting Mexico in 2015, we decided to stop in Guanajuato for a couple days and see Ashland’s sister city for the first time,” recalled the Thaldens, according to the WalkAshland report. “When we got to Guanajuato, we were literally blown away. It’s clearly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. When we got back to Ashland, we thought that the wall where you now see the mural would be the perfect location for a mural.”
The Thaldens returned to Guanajuato in January 2016 to choose a Guanajuato artist to paint the mural in Ashland, according to WalkAshland.
“Loreta was selling small paintings on the Plaza in Guanajuato, and we saw her work with buildings,” reads the website. “She depicted Guanajuato in such a colorful way, and we knew the minute we saw those that she was our artist.”
Villaseñor, who has her own art studio in Guanajuato, said creating the mural for Ashland was her “gift” to the city. It was completed in summer 2016, with help from five art students from SOU, according to “Walk Ashland.”
For more on the Fourth of July parade marshals, click here.
For more on Fourth of July events, click here.
Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at email@example.com.