Moving Mimbres Art into the Present

Deming mural reflects ancient culture


Jesse Kriegel has contributed a lot to the proliferation of Mimbres symbolism and art in Deming  – on an underpass for the train tracks, on a public building, and at Peppers Supermarket, where there’s an especially ambitious mural that’s worth seeking out.

But last summer he produced something that’s his masterpiece, so far. It’s about 40 feet long and 12 feet high, and it must be one of the most dynamic representations of Mimbres artistry that exists.

The MainStreet program paid for it and decided what the subject matter would be.

“It was partly because it is a celebration of the ancient American culture in the area,” Kriegel said. “The Mimbres culture was very unique.”  He was referring to the fact that Mimbres art is very representational compared to most indigenous art.

 “The figures on this mural are taken from my favorite Mimbres bowls,” he said. “Many are very recognizable, like the figures of wildlife, but they also had strange creatures, too.”

He talks about the center of the mural, where someone’s hands are holding a Mimbres pot with a hole at the bottom. It’s what’s called a “kill hole,” which is where “the spirit of the deceased go into the heavens.” As far as he knows, this aspect of their pots is unique among indigenous people.

Kriegel grew up in La Union and moved to Deming when he was in ninth grade. He then went to college and got a degree in drawing and painting and a sub-degree in curriculum and teaching. He’s been teaching at Deming High School for 18 years, and is department head for the Visual Art Department, as well as the lead teacher for the high school.

Many students at DPS have strong indigenous backgrounds. 

“There is an element of art that is passed down,” Kriegel said.  “Many are naturally talented in the arts, especially in pottery. They just need someone to open that door.”

Kriegel is a great fan of Picasso and of the great Mexican muralists of the early 20th century. He’s also an admirer of Frida Kahlo.

 “I’m a fan of contemporary low-brow street art,” he said. “What I love about street art is that it’s for everyone.” I’ve talked to several people in town from varying backgrounds, including a couple of check-out clerks, what they think of the new mural, and it seems everyone is enthusiastic.

Because of the musicality of the mural – its syncopation, its energy, its joy – I asked Kriegel if he associates any music with it.

“I always listen to music when I paint,” he said. “I tell my students that without music I wouldn’t be an artist. I’m all over the place. I like jazz, classical, Indie, and definitely some Mexican music. I like Native American instrumental music, and heavy metal.”

Toward the end of the interview, Jesse showed me a photo of the pot that was the basis of the right side of the mural, which is particularly rhythmic.

Surprisingly, his version of the figures on the pot is a literal rendering.  While I imagined Jesse’s wall-painting to be an enthusiastic riff on the general artistic culture of the Mimbres people, it turns out that that riff and the syncopation originated entirely from that man or woman who lived in the rustic desert culture of the day.

What music was the Mimbres person listening to? Was it a squirrel chattering, the flow of the Gila River over pebbles and rocks, or some kind of local music?

In this centuries-apart exchange of cultures, both parties are left more vivid and brilliant. Kriegel reflects off the Mimbres person, who reflects back to us.

I look forward to some more murals from Kriegel.