Salt Lake City artist Jeronimo Lozano was honored last week as a 2008 National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest level of achievement in the country for traditional and folk artists. Lozano, a native of Peru, was selected for his lifelong dedication to, knowledge of, and the craftsmanship present in his retablos. He is one of eleven artists selected to receive the award this year.
Lozano is the second-ever recipient of this honor from Utah; Mary Holiday Black, a Navajo basket weaver from Mexican Hat was honored in 1995.
Peruvian retablos are brightly patterned boxes with hinged doors. The interior features a diorama of small, sculpted figures and hand-crafted environments. Retablos can range significantly in size, allowing space for either a single scene, or several cells in order to depict the progression of a story. The origin of the Peruvian retablo is not clear; however, it is believed to be a descendent of the miniature alters carried by Christian knights during the Crusades and may have links to the diptyches of medieval European churches. The format, which was brought to Peru by Spanish explorers and missionaries, was originally used by the Peruvian people for spiritual protection while traveling, and it was later adapted for use as an educational tool as well.
Lozano, a native of the village of Huamanga, located in the remote Ayachucho region of Peru, worked with renowned retablo master Joaquín López Antay. Following in Antay’s footsteps, Lozano expanded the tradition of retablo making beyond the traditional themes of religious iconography, social customs, beliefs, and historic events to include the depiction of fiestas, street scenes, and even political commentary. Additionally, he developed a method for hand sculpting and painting each figure, which differs from many Peruvian retablists who use standardized figurine molds. As Lozano became more famous, his work was exhibited in museums in Lima and in other South American countries. Due to the rise of terrorism in his homeland, his family and friends were displaced and his father died as a result of tragic circumstances related to the rise of the Shining Path. Lozano, who was then studying art at the University of Lima, felt he could not return home. In 1994, while on tour in the United States with a folkloric dance troupe, he applied for and was ultimately granted status as an "Artist of Extraordinary Ability." Lozano has since taken up residency in Utah.
National Heritage Fellowships recognize lifetime achievement, artistic excellence, and contributions to the nation’s traditional arts heritage. Recipients, who receive a $20,000 award, are nominated via a public submission process. A panel of experts selected by the NEA determines the recipients based on a series of criteria, including artistic excellence, authenticity, and significance within their tradition. In 2008, 235 nominations were submitted for the 11 fellowships. Since 1982, 338 National Heritage Award Fellowships have been awarded. To learn about the National Heritage Fellowship program, visit www.nea.gov.
For more information, visit the Utah Arts Council website at www.arts.utah.gov, or call 801.236.7555.
The Utah Arts Council is part of the Division of Arts and Museums within the Utah Department of Community and Culture.