Stillwater artist presents “Strong Women” gallery to honor Mexican culture

The “Strong Women” series will go on display Sept. 25 at White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi.

WHITE BEAR LAKE – Just after Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16), an art show will be coming to White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi that celebrates the strong women that anchor communities, especially in Latino culture. A resident of Boutwells Landing in Stillwater, Jimmy Longoria has created a series called “Strong Women,” which will go on display Sept. 25.

As one of the most prominent Latino artists in Minnesota, Longoria has racked up an impressive list of artistic achievements, including a permanent display in the National Museum of Mexican Art, a Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. “Living the Dream” award and a Sally Award from the Ordway, among others. 

Margery McAlpine, who is assisting Longoria in setting up the “Strong Women” gallery, said the church art galleries are a well-kept secret.

“It’s a hidden gem here in Mahtomedi,” she said. “It’s an amazing community over there. [The galleries were] designed when they added on to old church that was there. It’s perfect for photography shows and smaller art. The church in general is trying to keep it from becoming a gallery and not a church! And the shows go up every six weeks or two months. And they’re wonderful shows there.” 

The church displays the work of approximately seven to eight artists every year, McAlpine said, most of them from the Twin Cities or even closer to home. Some members of the church have even presented galleries there.

For this show, Longoria knew exactly where to start. 

“I had always been working on the idea that our society and our culture survives because of women,” he said. “Our aesthetic choices are imprinted by our moms, when they create our environment. And they influence what we value because they tell us, ‘This is a pretty bird.’ For most human beings, the aesthetic foundation is laid by your mother. So it comes down from women.”

Longoria said that part of the inspiration from the project comes from looking at the future of America, which is projected to have a largely Latino population in the next 50 years.

“Latinos will be either dominant in different sectors because they’ll be at the right age bracket across the country,” Longoria said. “Everybody will be married to or related to a Latino.” 

The church heard of Longoria’s tendency to work in large canvases, and invited him to do a show in its expansive gallery. When he heard that the show was to be set in September, he immediately saw a way to connect it to his Latino heritage.

“That’s coincidentally Mexico’s independence, and one of the biggest issues right now is Mexican immigration,” he said. “People want to dance around it, but really it’s certain parts of our society reacting to Mexicans, and that it’s the Mexican that’s coming and invading American culture. Well, white bread is dead. You go in and there are more brands of tortilla than there are of bread. Everybody gets corn chips. Chili and salsa have already left ketchup behind. So the cultural invasion by Mexican culture is over. It’s all here. For me, this was easy. I said, I need to tie it to that.” 

Longoria has done extensive historical research about the Mexican Revolution to inform his art. He said that few people recognize that Mexican immigration into America is really a result of the Mexican Revolution. 

“It was overshadowed by our Depression and the first World War, but it was a crucial thing that happened, and the early waves of refugees from Mexico, were the educated class who was caught between the peasants and the ruling class. So the early settlement of Mexicans in North America is a result of that. So the idea was to go back and find the strong woman in the Mexican Revolution, and that was easy, because Adelita is there.”

Adelita was the subject of a soldier’s ballad during the Mexican Revolution, which stretched from 1910-1920. She came to be recognized as a woman warrior in the struggle, often depicted in art wearing cartridge belts and carrying a gun. 

“When you create a rebel force, women are essential to keep the men in battle,” Longoria said. “So you have the men in front going out to shoot each other, and you have the women coming along behind to tend to the wounded, to gather food. Adelita follows her sweetheart, and he gets killed, and she takes on another man, and then at the end, when they’re out of men, the women step forward. So the Mexican Revolution comes to a weird ending – it’s kind of suspended. But the idea is that you have women who came back from the revolution who are accustomed to having a .30-06 [rifle] and knowing how to use it, also having a .35 caliber Colt and knowing how to use it. After 1920, you’re not seeing Mexico set up as a culture where men rule without consequences.”

The show also aims to portray a diverse representation of Mexican women. 

“Most artists when they do Mexicans, they do bronze colored people,” Longoria said. “Well the reality is, there are blond blue-eyed Mexicans. Increasingly we’re seeing it’s hard to tell a Latino, a Latina. But what’s consistent is this culture: strong family. And at the center of the strong family culture is Mom. So trying to go and capture ageless women, and the idea is to say, let’s understand, if you encounter a Latino culture in North America, behind everything is this very strong determined woman.”

The reception for “Strong Women” will take place 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25 in the church atrium. Longoria said there will be no cheese, crackers or wine at the reception, but beans, rice and horchata (sweet rice milk) will be available for refreshments. White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church is located at 328 Maple St., Mahtomedi. The show runs until Nov. 9. 

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