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Photo album-inspired arch in Garden City reflects an artist’s gratitude and community history. • Kansas Reflector

In Garden City – the rural heart of the High Plains – stands “El Arco,” a 14-foot-tall sculpture erected in 2023.

You can find the artwork at 8th Street in historic downtown Garden City, across from Central Cup Coffee House. Clad in a yellow-orange gradient of ceramic tiles printed with a “photo album” of the city that helped shape the artist – Armando Minjárez Monárrez – the sculpture reflects both the artist’s life and our own life and times. It suggests both the opportunities and restrictions of rural America in the 2020s, and above all a very American story of tinkering with our future with the support and guidance of our communities.

Since studying art at Garden City Community College in 2005, western Kansas has held an important place in Minjárez’s heart. In early 2021, longtime mentor Carole Geier told him about a round of Garden City Arts grants whose deadline was approaching. Ideas about what builds community quickly generated a proposal submission.

He has known Geier since he lived in Garden City, he said.

“She’s someone who made an effort to stay in touch with me – I couldn’t have participated in (this grant) without her,” he said. “I’m grateful to him.”

Minjárez’s application was selected and the execution of the project began.

This pandemic project took longer than expected. Art of the garden cityCompany director Caty Guthrie said they were facing “supply chain issues” as the ceramic arch was initially meant to be constructed from steel. Those problems, coupled with a three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Garden City from Wichita, where Minjárez is now based, have led to slow progress.

In true Midwestern fashion, Minjárez viewed the series of hours-long trips as an opportunity to “reconnect.”

The many facets of Minjárez’s talents are captured in the details of the arc. His early interest in architecture and design found a home in the Art and Design Centers at Garden City Community College. theater departments.

He cites David Kinder, the painting professor who “saw something in me…and offered me a scholarship. …That’s how I ended up there” – as well as a since-retired theater director Skip Mancini and her husband, Vincent.

“They both became my mentors,” Minjárez said.

He added: “He’s an architect, and he knew I wanted to study architecture…he was someone I could go to and ask questions, you know, ‘What school should I go to?’ go ? “What things should I do?” ” And Skip gave me some great opportunities, designing sets for… shows like “Sweeney Todd,” “Wiley and the Hairy Man” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” »

Seemingly separate art studies can sometimes cause us to “choose a path” when it comes to perfecting our craft. However, Minjárez’s lifelong practice as an artist led him to a cumulative proposal for Garden City Arts.

Needing to honor both the history of Garden City and the ever-increasing diversity of its current population, Minjárez said, “I like a good challenge and this was definitely one. »

His knowledge and study of iconography led him to avoid certain approaches.

“Being Mexican myself, I know that not all brown people are Mexican,” he said. “There are other Latin American nationalities living in the city – from Africa and Southeast Asia – so I didn’t want to use national symbols, flags or anything like that . It’s a very easy way to alienate people.

A solution to supply shortages and choice of images eventually arrived, perhaps thanks to another mentor from his time in Garden City: Brian McCallum, a ceramicist and current department head at Garden City Community College.

A detail of "The Arco" the sculpture shows images of the lives of residents of the Garden City neighborhood.
A detail of the “El Arco” sculpture shows images of the lives of residents of the Garden City neighborhood. (Brett Crandall for Kansas Reflector)

On the exterior sides of this imposing arch are photographs submitted by Garden City residents, transferred to yellow-orange shaded ceramic tiles, giving it a faded but hallowed Polaroid quality.

“I’ve always wanted to try this technique of using real photographs and transferring them to ceramics,” Minjárez said. “It’s a way for people to really see themselves in this room, in a very literal way. In a somewhat nostalgic way too, because of the nature of the projects, where I asked people from the community to submit photos. I knew I had a list of people to contact, without knowing if they still lived there or not.

The project presents stories long before Minjárez’s arrival.

“It also provided an opportunity to go back into the historical archives and look at photos from 100 years ago or even more, dating back to the early days of Garden City,” he said.

The difference in how photography has been used throughout the history of Garden City appears throughout the play.

“Personally, I love photo albums,” Minjárez said, brightening. “What do they like to celebrate and capture? You can learn about someone’s family and who they are from some of these relics, I guess, right? Family relics and memories. I kind of wanted to feel the same feeling.

However, step inside and you will encounter your own reflection in the shiny silver tiles.

“I wanted it to be something reflective, a material so that if someone looks at the photos on the outside, they can kind of go inside the arch and maybe see their reflection today. ‘today,’ he said.

This writer was honored to have a local pride event that he produced now cemented in the city’s history – an event that a younger version of myself driving around Garden City would actively have avoided for fear of being denounced.

How times can change.

When talking with residents of the new facility, many noticed the shiny material inside, complaining that the light shined on them while driving down.th Street. I think this is another example of art imitating life and a testament to Minjárez’s thoughtful design. People can find it difficult to truly think about today’s unfolding social structures.

When these flashes of the past come to mind, it might be worth stopping for a minute, going over the little details, and savoring these moments with people who have shaped us to be grateful. Perhaps you enter the mirrored center and cherish the wisdom and experience gained. As a native of the area, I couldn’t help but think of my own “pillar people” who saw potential in me, while others saw only unchanneled overexcitement.

“The mentorship I received while I was there from (Kinder, Geier, McCallum, the Mancinis), the opportunities and connections that everyone offered me at the time – to think of 20-year-old me , dreaming of designing structures for the public. to use and somehow serve a higher purpose. To be able to do this now at this level is pretty remarkable,” Minjárez said. “I don’t know if that’s too noble, but it feels like a gift that was given to me, doesn’t it?” (It’s) also a gift that I can leave behind for the people who were able to participate.

You can learn more about his art at ArmandoMinjarez.com or follow him on Instagram @armando__minjarez

Brett Crandall is an actor, writer, producer, puppeteer, and LGBTQIA+ activist based in Garden City. Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector strives to amplify the voices of people affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comments, here.