by Dana Hughes
During the I Madonnari festival, this year held from May 28 to May 30 2016, color and imagination bring the parking lot of Old Mission Santa Barbara to life. A kaleidoscope of 150 scenes created by local—and international—artists cover the pavement in a festival borrowed from Italy but perfectly suited to Santa Barbara’s love for art, music, food, and community fun.
This year I had the privilege to paint a square representing the El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Hitsoric Park, and wondered how exactly to illustrate the site’s Spanish Colonial heritage for the average of 25,000 visitors who attend. The finished product brought together a number of inspirations I had picked up during my research and time as an education intern with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, focusing on the people of Spanish and Mexican California and the art and music with which they beautified their world.
The soldado playing guitar was based on pictures of living history docents at the Santa Barbara Presidio, performing traditional Spanish songs for dancing. In the scene I painted, he is playing next to a woman who was based loosely on a portrait of Francisca de la Guerra. Though born in the mid-nineteenth century, and not the colonial Spanish period the soldado represents, as a member of the prominent de la Guerra family she kept Spanish heritage alive throughout her life, and was known to particularly love Spanish folk songs. I altered the portrait somewhat to have her sewing an altarpiece for the Presidio chapel, which was inspired by the painstaking crafts performed by soldier’s wives and other women of Spanish and Mexican California, and the beautiful floral designs festooning altar cloths, shawls, and paintings. An image of St. Barbara with her characteristic tower is also present on the altar cloth, and Presidio architecture is visible in the background.
I enjoyed this opportunity to try to bring some of Santa Barbara’s past occupants and their stories to life, and felt privileged to be part of an event where artists bring together stories as varied and vibrant as our community!
Dana Hughes is a UCSB graduate student in the History Department and a 2015 Higman Intern.