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Confluence of Culture: Documenting the 1960s and 70s Chicano Art Movement

December 25, 2016

This post covers a recent addition to the Jacinto Quirarte Papers and is written by former archives student assistant, Marissa Del Toro.

Slides of artwork by Tony Ortega

Slides of artwork by Tony Ortega, 1989-1990.

Did you ever have that moment when everything you have been working on comes full circle? I had one of those moments earlier in May, when I serendipitously met Mrs. Sara Quirarte. She is the wife of the late Dr. Jacinto Quirarte, who was professor emeritus of Art History. While working in Special Collections this past year, I have helped process additions to the Jacinto Quirarte Papers. As a student who studies Latino and Latin American Art, and after becoming immersed in Quirarte’s collection, I have grown fond of the acclaimed art historian.

Dr. Jacinto Quirarte was a leading expert of pre-Columbian, Latin American, and Chicano art history. Born in 1931 in the small mining town of Jerome, Arizona, Quirarte lived with his family in an area and neighborhood known as “El Barrio Méxicano” or “El Barrio Chicano.” Quirarte received his B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State College in 1954 and 1958. He later moved to Mexico City, where he received his doctorate from the National University of Mexico in 1964. Afterwards, Quirarte taught at the Colegio Americano in Mexico City, the University of the Americas in Mexico City, Yale University, and the University of Texas at Austin. He also worked with the U.S. State Department as the director of the Centro Venezolano in Caracas, Venezuela, where he developed a cultural exchange program to help introduce pop art from artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein to South America.

Letter from Cesar Augusto Martinez to Jacinto Quirarte

Letter from Cesar Augusto Martinez to Jacinto Quirarte, 1972.

At the request of Tomas Rivera, Quirarte was invited to teach at the newly established University of Texas at San Antonio. In 1972, Quirarte became the founding Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, serving as one of the first academic officials charged with building the new institution. By 1979, he became director of UTSA’s Research Center for the Arts (RCA), a multidisciplinary program that explored Hispanic and Colonial influences in art and culture. In the early 1990s, Quirarte returned to full time teaching and research in the Art History Department. He became a professor emeritus in 2008 and passed away in 2012.

The Jacinto Quirarte collection consists of scholarly papers, research articles, correspondence, and images that present the scholar’s professional interests and administrative roles. His materials document his position as a key figure in the early days of UTSA, building curriculum plans, establishing the RCA, and writing grant proposals for the Art and Art History Department and the College of Fine and Applied Arts (now known as COLFA).

Quirarte worked with several local and national organizations, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Task Force on Hispanic American Arts, the San Antonio Arts Council, and the Harvard Journal on Chicano Affairs. The materials in his collection also show his process of writing, editing and publishing. Quirarte was a prolific writer whose books covered a broad range of topics, from the Izapan Style of Art (1973), to The Art and Architecture of Texas Missions (2002), and How to Look at a Masterpiece: Europe and the Americas (6th ed., 2003).

The Jacinto Quirarte Papers showcase his distinguished legacy, but they also highlight his rich collection of documents and materials on the early formation of the Chicano Art Movement. He was one of the first scholars to research and discuss the influence of Chicano and Mexican American art within the United States. His interest in the Chicano Art Movement of the 1960s and 70s began when he noticed a connection between borderland identity and the incorporation of pre-Columbian elements. In an interview with the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art, Quirarte noted that it was during his time in 1960s Mexico that he became interested in the “confluences of culture” and “fascinated with the outsider and the insider relationship in terms of culture and civilization.”

Slides of artwork by Santa Barrraza

Slides of artwork by Santa Barrraza, 1989-1991.

Photo: (Box 23: Santa Barraza)

In 1972, Quirarte and his wife drove across the U.S. to interview as many artists as they could meet. During this one year expedition, they traveled from the Southwest to the East Coast, searching for and talking with artists who identified as Mexican American or Chicana/o, such as Luis Jiménez, Michael Ponce de León, Melesio Casas, and Chelo González Amézcua. This research trip led to one of his first books, Mexican American Artists (1973), which further developed into A History and Appreciation of Chicano Art (1984).

According to the renowned scholar Alicia Gaspar de Alba, the Chicano Art movement coincided and grew out of the mid-1960s Chicano Civil Rights Movement, which formed as a resistance “to the hegemonic structures of mainstream America” and instead looked to affirm a “multilingual, multicultural heritage as expressed in the concepts of mestizaje and la Raza.” Quirarte’s early research of the Chicano Art movement recognized that many of the artists were “trying to deal with their own experience, their own background” while using pre-Columbian language and signifiers, such as the glyphs and statue of Coatlicue seen in Santa Barraza’s work. These artists operated in a context that explored their contemporary identity and pre-Columbian ancestry, but also publicly raised important social issues. They called for equal opportunity and representation, as well as acknowledgement of their collective histories and cultures.

Jacinto Quirarte’s research bridged a relationship between the ancient styles of pre-Columbia with the contemporary works of artists, making the past relevant while providing an ancestral context for the modern Chicana/o identity. His papers are evidence of his life and his pioneering spirit, which established a foundation for future generations—like myself—to pick up and continue.

Portrait of Jacinto Quirarte by Judy Baca

Portrait of Jacinto Quirarte by Judy Baca, 1979.


Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Chicano Art Inside/outside the Master’s House: Cultural Politics and the CARA Exhibition. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

Elaine Ayala, “Historian a founding father of UTSA,” San Antonio Express-News (, accessed May 12, 2016. Originally published and updated by the San Antonio Express-News online on July 28, 2012.

“Jacinto Quirarte,” (, accessed May 12, 2016. Originally published by Express-News on July 29, 2012.

Oral history interview with Jacinto Quirarte, 1996 Aug. 15-16, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Available: (Accessed May 12, 2016).

Rebecca Luther, Communications Coordinator Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, “UTSA professor emeritus, art historian Jacinto Quirarte dies at age 80,” UTSA Today (, accessed May 12, 2016. Originally published by UTSA Today on July 27, 2012.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 29, 2016 11:41 am

    Reblogged this on stillness of heart and commented:
    Such beautiful artwork

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