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Sheepherders took many subjects, including, of course, women who were very scarce in summer pastures!

Basque aspen art, or arborglyphs, are the subject of an exciting new exhibit at Reno’s Ranch San Rafael Regional Park, “Mountain Picassos: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin.” The exhibit is on display from now through August 1, 2016 daily from 8a-6p. Join us Friday June 10, 2016 at 6pm for a reception to meet Jean and Phillip Earl.

“Mountain Picassos” are an array of Basque tree carvings, or “arborglyphs,” which have long been of interest to historians, Basque scholars, foresters, and hikers. These carvings have been extensively documented in Nevada and California with photographs and through cultural asset mapping by, among others, good friend of the Center Joxe Mallea, who has written a classic on the subject Speaking through the Aspens, published by the University of Nevada Press.

For more than half a century, Jean and Phillip Earl of Reno used clues from old maps, letters, and books to hunt for and document “Mountain Picassos,” distinctive figures carved into aspen trees found in the high country meadows of the Great Basin. These figures, along with names, dates, and sayings, were carved by Basque sheepherders in the early to mid-20th century. Jean Earl evolved a unique method of preserving the carvings using canvas and artists’ wax to create rubbings, two-dimensional representations of the carvings that are works of art themselves, eventually assembling over 130 wax-on-muslin rubbings made directly from the carvings. The Earl’s have also published a book on the subject with beautiful prints, Basque Aspen Art of the Sierra Nevada.

Mountain Picassos explores the unexpected intersection of art, culture, and nature. This exhibit comprises 26 of these rubbings—along with text panels, contextual photographs, and streaming video. It provides a rare opportunity to see some of the intimate personal images inscribed by Basque sheepherders in the aspen groves of the Great Basin during the first half of the 20th century.