By Miguel Juárez
The late Felipe Adame painted his first murals in El Paso in the early 1980s. Felipe was born on August 23, 1942. He considered his murals “as a means to preserve the culture, to retain a heritage, and to value the community organized effort behind a work of art.” Adame was a seasoned muralist who had painted dozens of murals throughout the United States before returning to El Paso.
Between 1968 and 1972, he painted murals in Denver, Colorado, Kansas City, Montana, California, and Washington, D.C. He was among the artists involved in the Movimiento (Chicano Movement) politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1978 he worked with area youth to paint a thirty-by-eighty-foot mural in Chicano Park in San Diego. He also supervised the painting of eight pillars, involving three hundred area high school art classes, each painting one mural at a time during the years from 1974 to 1978. He thenparticipated in Mural Marathon ’78, where artists created murals on the pillars of the Coronado Bridge in San Diego.
He took four years of mechanical drawing and drafting and art at El Paso Technical High School, five years of stagecraft and set design at the UTEP Drama Department and two years of mural work under the direction of Jose Montoya in Berkeley, California. In San Diego, he completed a two-year internship at Centro Cultural de la Raza under Gilberto Ramírez. According to Lisa Deaderick, writing in The San Diego Union-Tribune:
Gilberto Ramirez, a muralist from Mexico City who had studied the art form with one of the country’s great muralists, David Alfaro Siqueiros. Ramirez had heard about San Diego’s college students’ activism focused on Chicano and Mexican identity issues, so he traveled to San Diego “intent on giving them a public and permanent way to express themselves artistically,” said Seth Mallios, an anthropology professor at San Diego State University. He taught students including Aranda, who then disseminated mural art at Chicano Park, and later across California. [“Top weekend events: Deaderick, Lisa, “Earth Day, David Crosby, Chicano Park Day,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 21, 2017].
Adame painted more than a dozen works in El Paso beginning in 1980. The most popular were his Virgen de Guadalupe murals: one on a pillar by the Lincoln Cultural Arts Center, at the corner of Durazno and Uva, painted in 1981; one on the west exterior wall of La Corona Grocery on Seventh and South Ochoa streets in memory of Thunderbird gang members slain that year; and another with Juan Diego at the Salazar Housing Projects in 1983. Jesús Hernández assisted Adame with the painting of the Virgen at La Corona Grocery.
In 1981 Hernández painted a richly detailed Aztec Calendar on a small wall inside the tenements under a flight of steps. He also assisted the Kofu gang members in South El Paso with a mural on the second story of their tenement building at Florence and Eighth streets near the Armijo Center during the early 1980’s. According to Jan Wilson, researcher of Segundo Barrio murals, the art work was taken from an emblem worn on their jackets by Kofu members.
His 1981 Virgen near the Lincoln Art Cultural Center was painted on a freeway pillar under a highway interchange known as the Spaghetti Bowl. The location is near the corner of Durazno and Uva streets. The mural is the only one left intact to date, as a result of the I-10 Connect Project. The image was reproduced in the poster for a 1989 citywide celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Adame said he sought to create El Paso’s version of San Diego’s Chicano Park there, but was deterred by authorities. Before Artist Carlos Callejos’ murals were painted in 1999, an unfinished four-by-eight-foot image of a revolutionary figure stood on a freeway pillar that he painted in 1981–a lone image of the artist’s effort to create a Chicano Park.
In 1982 Adame painted “Ixtacihuatl, Mujer Blanca, Leyenda de los Volcanos,” taken from a painting by the Mexican artist Jesús Helguera, inside the Armijo Recreational Center at 710 East Seventh in South El Paso. He was assisted by Elizabeth Joyce, Raul Macias, Nacho Guerrero and Jesús “Machido” Hernandez. They used a perforated paper technique to transfer the mural on the wall. The wall was plastered by Ignacio Guerrero, Nacho’s father. Adame in 1982 painted “Dale Gas,” at Gator’s Grocery in South El Paso. The mural showed a Zoot Suiter with El Paso’s skyline in the background. The thirty-foot mural, which no longer exists, was located near the corner of Sixth Street and the alley west of Cotton Street. The mural of the Virgen of Guadalupe and Juan Diego, the man to whom she appeared in a vision in 1531, painted by Adame in 1982-83 at the Rubén Salazar Housing Complex Building 10 on Eucalyptus Street was painted at the request of the Thunderbirds and the Cornejo family. It took six months to complete and was financed by Adame who sold square-foot blocks of the mural to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Ruidoso Grocery and numerous other sponsors. The mural was restored by Adame and neighborhood youth in 1991 with the assistance of a $5,000 stipend from the Junior League’s Los Murales Project.
In 1986, he painted a panoramic scene of early El Paso and the Rio Grande at the Campus Queen Restaurant at 2700 North Mesa Drive in West El Paso. The painting shows a covered wagon at the Ysleta Mission. He began working with youth from Varrio Quinta Street (VQS) at Father Rahm (Fifth Street) and Campbell streets in 1985, in an effort to deter the problem use of spray inhalants in that area. The mural, approximately twenty-two feet long by twenty-six feet high, displays the Aztec gods of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. The name of this group reflects the use of the street name for barrio as varrio, also found in the names of several other groups.
In 1985, Adame also painted a mural in Chihuahuita on the garage of Lico Zubia in memory of his son, Forentino Zubia Jr., “Nuni,” who had died in a motorcycle accident in 1980. Zubia asked Adame to paint a scene from the film “Easy Rider.” A pick-up truck is shown emerging from a snow-covered area, driving toward a beach. Before traveling to Seattle in 1992 to create other work, Adame restored the mural at the corner of Campbell and Father Rahm under a stipend from the Los Murales Project.
The late Felipe Adame was one of El Paso’s most prolific artists. He passed away on November 23, 2017 at the age of 75. Felipe’s passing, like so many artists before him leads to me to ask, how will we remember artists in El Paso? Maybe here? If you would like to feature a late El Paso artist, send us a message here.
Dr. Miguel Juarez is the Editor in Chief of El Paso News and is the author of Colors on Desert Walls: the Murals of El Paso (1997, Texas Western Press). In 1997 he also recorded a 14 episode interview series titled “Frontera Artists: Mexican and Chicano Artists in El Paso.” You can contact Juarez at: email@example.com