The Big Picture
Deming art teacher Jesse Kriegel is spending his summers
painting murals of the ancient Mimbres people.
by Marjorie Lilly
From early June to early August last year, Jesse Kriegel could be seen working on tall scaffolding inside Peppers Supermarket in Deming.
Deming art teacher and muralist Jesse Kriegel.
(Photo by Marjorie Lilly).
He devoted two months of his summer vacation to painting a larger-than-life mural of a young indigenous man making Mimbres pots. The powerful image now dominates the entrance to the store, looming over cafeteria seats, soda machines and grocery carts.
This summer he's painting another mural, outdoors on what will become the Deming City Conference Center. Fiber boards have been put over some of the windows, and he's creating another Mimbres-related mural.
Kriegel says he knew early on he'd be an artist. He grew up in La Union, NM, on a farm owned by his father, and in 1993, when he was 15, he moved to Deming with his mother. He was already preparing a portfolio for art school when he was a sophomore, inspired by high school art teacher Sherry Witt Goff. He ended up being an art major and graduated with an emphasis on drawing and painting.
Kriegel combined his skills from his art education to produce the Peppers mural. He first had to do research on the culture and history of the Mimbres people. "I did a lot of work online," he says.
"Getting photos of Mimbres Indians is difficult," he adds wryly. The Mimbres culture flourished from 700 AD to 1100 AD in southwestern New Mexico.
After poring over scores of Internet documents, he came to the conclusion that "Papago Indians are very similar to Mimbres Indians. And Pimas, too — there are major similarities in their art, too." The Papagos and Pimas live in Arizona and Mexico.
"I chose a random image that embodied to me what I had seen in these potters," Kriegel says.
He took inspiration for the mural from the masters. "Los tres grandes — Siqueiros, Orozco and Rivera — are like my idols," Kriegel says of the most famous Mexican muralists.
Kriegel’s mural in the Peppers café area depicts
an ancient Mimbres potter.
"Rivera and the others did a lot of egg tempera," he says. "They would put a fresh coat of plaster on and then paint on that. There is more of a permanent element in their work."
About his own mural he says, "It's all for the most part interior latex paint. The center is acrylic — the figure itself and the mountains.
"Oil painting is very time-consuming. If I had used that, it still would not be done. Acrylic is very quick to work with; it dries quickly. Acrylic on a large scale is the way to go."
Kriegel claims that Mimbres people are thought of by some today as the "Renaissance painters of their time. It's amazing what they did with chewed-up yucca brushes and home-made glazes."
He was careful about the designs he used for the pots in the mural. "They're all from referenced pots. I wanted to keep them as traditional as possible," he says.
When the subject of the gender of the potter comes up, Kriegel gets a little sheepish. "Everything we know of the Mimbres has been from their pottery," he says. "Based on how you see them, they are not very heavily clothed." In general, it's not clear what people wore.
"I talked to Mark, and he said, 'It might have to be an issue.'" Mark Shultze is the owner of Peppers, and he'd commissioned the mural. This is one reason Kriegel decided not to paint a woman, who would almost certainly have been uncovered from the waist up.
"It's a fact that the women did pots," he says. "But women were not closely tied to ceremonial things."
Most of the pots Kriegel depicts, the pots with designs, were ceremonial pots used for burials. The plain ones were functional, household pots. "To me, it's almost crazy that men wouldn't be involved with ceremonial pots," he says.
The loincloth also came up in his discussions with Shultze. The fact that the painting was in a public place and in a family environment was taken into consideration, and the loincloth was painted in.
Kriegel now teaches high school art in the Deming Public Schools. His life is consumed by his job, his kids with their soccer games, and his part-time job at Peppers.
It's safe to say he's an inspiring teacher. In a recent student exhibit at the Deming Arts Council, 12 or 13 of the works out of a very restricted selection were by his students. Three of his students, one of whom is the son of a farmworker, will be going to art school in the fall.
In his own art Kriegel leans towards portraits of family members and self-portraits, with lots of black and white paint. He has an affinity for the photorealist painter Chuck Close, who specializes in portraits of people so close-up "you can see the pores in their skin," he says.
He even uses himself as a canvas — Kriegel's arms are a dense mass of tattoos. "I designed most of them," he says.
Marjorie Lilly writes the Borderlines column.