Tag: nestor basterretxea

March 21, 1941: Birth of composer Sara Soto

Most of you reading this will be aware of the importance of music in Basque culture and we could quite easily dedicate an entire blog to Basque music alone. Today’s Flashback Friday story concerns an interesting figure in the world of Basque music that is sometimes overlooked in studies of the topic. Sara Soto Gabiola was born in Gorliz, Bizkaia, on March 21, 1941, although her family moved to Irun, Gipuzkoa, when she was very young.

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

She suffered from a muscular illness as a child, which limited her ability to move around easily, and she found an escape from the physical limitation imposed on her by developing a keen appreciation for the arts: she drew and painted and was an avid reader. But in was in music that she found her true métier. Although she did undertakle some formal studies of harmony, she was largeñy self-taught.

Her first compositions, influenced strongly by the Basque artistic collective Ez Dok Amairu and in particular Lourdes Iriondo and Xabier Lete (with whom she established a lasting friendship), she started composing songs for accompaniment by the guitar. Lete wrote the lyrics for several of her compositions, including the popular “Kanta Kanta,” recorded by Maria Ostiz in the late 1960s, and Iriondo recorded her song “Maitasun honek zugan dirudi” in the mid-1970s.

In the late 1970s the renowned sculptor, artist, and all-round Basque renaissance figure Nestor Basterretxea commissioned her to compose an accompanying soundtrack for what would become arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series), today housed in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.  The result was the choral work “Karraxis,” based on verses by Basterretxea, which premiered in 1979 in Donostia-San Sebastián with the Ametsa Choir from Irun and some members of the Orfeón Donostiarra choir as well. In the mid-1980s she worked with Basterretxea again to create the “Cripta,” a piece for the organ inspired by the artist’s murals for the crypt in the Sanctuary of Arantzazu.  Although these were her best known works, she composed many more choral and organ pieces and left a profound mark on Basque music. She died in Irun in June 1999.

The Reno Basque Monument

FullSizeRender (10)

It has finally come to the time of semester when projects and deadlines are are among us and the end is in sight.  I, along with a few other students in the Center for Basque Studies, are preparing to head to the Basque Country.  Iker Saitua has graduated (and is now Dr. Saitua), Ziortza is returning home for the summer to be with family, and I am heading over for some intensive language learning in the small town of Lazkao, Gipuzkoa.

In addition to getting out with my dog Mowgli in the nicer weather we’ve been having here lately, I thought it would be appropriate to visit the Reno Basque Monument in preparation to bridge the gap from where I’ve been living and studying for the last year and a half, and the real deal.  On the way to hiking to the “N” which can be seen from many parts of Reno,

IMG_1520

I stopped to see the map of settlements, the monument itself and the list of names …

IMG_1508basque in us

 

Nestor Basterretxea Arzadun was the Basque artist who helped design the Basque Monument titled Solitude.  He also worked closely with other Basque artists, largely on the topic of emptiness within Basque culture and identity.

Emily Lobsenz captured Nestor’s story shortly before his death, on video in her film Song of the Basques.

 

IMG_1510

Living in Reno and seeing the local Basque-American culture has prepped me for the next year when I finally am able to experience first-hand all that I’ve learned since starting the program here at the Center for Basque Studies.  While I expect there to be many similarities between the two spaces, I know there will be a world of difference.

Here’s to the Basque Country-see you soon!

 

 

 

May 6, 1924: Cultural icon Nestor Basterretxea born

One of the towering figures–both literally and figuratively–of the Basque cultural world, Nestor Basterretxea, was born in Bermeo, Bizkaia, on May 6, 1924. Although renowned for his work in sculpture, alongside the two Basque giants of the art form, Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003) and Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), Basterretxea distinguished himself in the Basque cultural arena for his wide and varied work in a number of different fields from painting and design to film making, as well as carving out a major commercial name for himself as an entrepreneur, and with his death at age 90 in 2014 he left a major legacy for Basque culture as a whole.

Néstor_Basterretxea

Nestor Basterretxea at work. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although born in Bermeo, he was forced to flee the Basque Country with his family during the Spanish Civil War. Finding refuge initially in France, the outbreak of World War II once more forced the family to flee, this time to Argentina. As a young man in Argentina, alongside his studies in industrial design he also took an interest in painting and worked initially in the advertising industry, drawing up designs for publicity campaigns as well as exhibiting some of his own paintings as well.

In 1951 he married Basque-Argentinian Maria Isabel Irurzun, and the couple went to live initially in Madrid. He became involved in the European cultural avant-garde of the 1950s, a member of the Equipo 57 (Team 57) experimental painters’ group, and eventually settled in Gipuzkoa in 1958. Thereafter, without giving up painting, he also began to study sculpture as he found in this a better means to express the concept of space.

In 1966, he was a founding member of the Gaur (Today) an avant-garde artistic group also including (among others) Oteiza, Chillida, Remigio Mendiburu (1931-1990), Jose Antonio Sistiaga (b. 1932), and Jose Luis Zumeta (b. 1939), which in its short but highly productive existence became a leading force for cultural change in the Basque Country, challenging entrenched ideas about art and aesthetics.

Ama_Lur1

Poster for the film Ama Lur (1968).

At the same time, Basterretxea was also taking an interest in film as another significant means of artistic expression. Together with filmmaker Fernando Larruquert (b. 1934) he made the documentaries Operación H (Operation H, 1963), Pelotari (1964), and Alquézar (1965). The two of them also later made their key work: Ama Lur (Mother Earth, 1968); a documentary film intended to celebrate the strength and resilience of Basque culture that faced multiple hurdles in overcoming the predominant censorship of the time in Franco’s dictatorship in Spain; and, incredibly, the first feature length film production produced and shot in the Basque Country since the Spanish Civil War.

Gurpilla

The iconic “Gurpilla” (Wheel) chair designed by Basterretxea in the 1960s.

Besides this artistic work in the fields of painting, sculpture, and film making, somewhat remarkably Basterretxea also found the time to create a business empire, designing tables, offices, chairs, couches, lamps, chimneys, bar furniture, and even a chess set for his company BIOK. He had actually been designing furniture since the late 1950s, first for the H Muebles company owned by a great Basque patron of the arts, Juan Huarte. Seeing a gap in the market for contemporary designed and Basque-made furniture, Basterretxea later set up BIOK and its showcase store Espiral with a group of investors, introducing, for example, the bestselling “Gurpilla” chair, based on a curved wooden design, in the mid-1960s.

Thereafter, he returned once more to strictly artistic pursuits, presenting arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series) in 1973. This was made up of 19 works, made in wood, showcasing Basque Mythology and included individual pieces like the goddess-like figure of Mari and Akelarre (Witches’ Coven). This collection is today housed in the Bilbao Fine arts Museum.

640px-Olatu_sculpture

Olatua (The Wave) in the port of Bermeo, Bizkaia. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After a brief spell as an art adviser to the newly implemented Basque government in the early 1980s, he continued to produce emblematic sculptures throughout that decade and into the 1990s and 2000s: these included the Bakearen Usoa (Dove of Peace) in Donostia; Solitude, the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in Reno; the monument to the Basque saint, Francis Xavier,  in Tokyo;  Goldea (The Plow) in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa; and the monument to the memory of the Basque sailors who died in the Battle of Matxitxako (near his home town of Bermeo) against Franco’s forces in March 1937.

640px-Nestor_matxitxako_1

Monument to the fallen Basque sailors at the Battle of Matxitxako. Photo by Telle. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He won numerous prizes and awards throughout his long life and will be remembered fondly here at UNR, where his Orreaga held pride of place in the old Getchell Library before being rehoused in the new Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, as reported in an earlier post here.

Basterretxea’s work is discussed in both Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives by William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika (available free to download here) and Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray. Be sure to check out, too, a couple of other publications by the Etxepare Basque Institute that talk about the influence of Basterretxea in different fields: Architecture and Design by Peio Aguirre (free to download here) and Basque Cinema by Joxean Fernández (available free to download here).

 

 

 

Center featured in KNPB’s Arteffects

image-basque_monument1

The National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder, Rancho San Rafael, Reno, NV.

Episode 113 of KNPB‘s show Arteffects, which aired on April 29, included a feature on Basque art with the Center’s own Joseba Zulaika speaking about Basque immigration, Nestor Basterretxea’s Monument to the Basque Sheepherder in Reno’s San Rafael Park and Orreaga in the UNR library (be sure to check out the blog tomorrow, Friday, May 6, for a feature on Basterretxea), the history and development of the CBS as well as the arborglyphs or tree carvings made by Basque sheepherders and the importance of art in the Basque Country in general as a key part of its cultural legacy. The show also featured Kelly Reis, Executive Director of the Sparks Museum & Cultural Center, discussing the temporary exhibit titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques,” covered in an earlier post.

Check out the show (with the report on Basque art at approx. 19m 30s) here.

basque tree carvings

Basque tree carvings.

If you’re interested in Basque art, check out Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray.

See also Speaking Through the Aspens:  Basque Tree Carvings in California and Nevada, by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe. And check out Joxe’s site dedicated to this fascinating piece of Basque-American social and cultural history here.

Basterretxea’s Orreaga Reinstalled at the New Library

Photo Nov 05, 9 02 51 AM (1)

Nestor Basterretxea’s Orreaga, recently installed in the Matthewson-IGT Knowledge directly downstairs from the Center!

On February 11, 1985 a ceremony attended by over 200 persons was held in the foyer of UNR’s Getchell University Library that inaugurated the exhibition of two Basque sculptures now on display at the University of Nevada: Orreaga by Nestor Basterretxea (1924-2014) and Gaztelu by Remigio Mendiburu (1931-1990).

Both sculptures were generously loaned to the University by Jose Ramon Cengotitabengoa and Gemma Egaña.

Basterretxea, right, at the dedication of the Monument to the Basque Sheepher in Rancho San Rafael. With Carmelo Urza

Basterretxea, right, at the dedication of the Monument to the Basque Sheepher in Rancho San Rafael. With Carmelo Urza

Basterretxea worked as a sculptor, painter, designer, and film producer. He had many individual exhibitions and participated in more than 150 collective ones, mainly in Europe. Eleven of his largest works adorn public buildings and urban spaces in the Basque Country, and his Solitude, the National Monument to the Basque Sheepherder, stands in Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno. Mendiburu was a leading Basque sculptor dedicated to the expression of traditional Basque culture through the medium of contemporary visual arts. His works have been exhibited widely in Europe. Gaztelu–a massive wooden motif to depict both the diversity and continuity of the seven traditional Basque regions with a single taproot of Basque culture–was taken to Elko where it stayed until 2008 when, following Jose Ramon´s wishes,  it was brought back to UNR for the inauguration of the new Center for Basque Studies at the new library.

In the meantime Orreaga stayed in the old Getchell Library until is was transported to the Center, cleaned, and placed in a crate waiting for its re-installment at the new library. Orreaga is the Basque term for Roncesvalles (Spanish) or Ronceveaux (French), a town that commemorates the famous battle at the mountain pass in the Pyrenees during which Basques attacked the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne’s rearguard. The emperor’s commander Roland was killed, giving rise to the famous epic poem La chanson du Roland (The Song of Roland), one of the oldest works in French literature. The base piece of the sculpture is seated within a U-shaped wooden framework which represents the canyon in which Charlemagne’s imperial forces were attacked. The base piece depicts Charlemagne’s trapped army with its anguished cries rising to the heavens. From above, descending upon them is the bird of death in the form of the avenging Basque forces.

Orreaga is installed at the northern main entrance on the main floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, hanging from the wall next to the rotunda. It can be seen from the Center´s entrance floor as well, where Gaztelu is exhibited, thus establishing a dialogue between the two iconic pieces of two of the greatest postwar Basque artists.

Orreaga was officially installed during the November 3rd ceremony to rename the Center as the William A. Douglas Center for Basque Studies and the Basque Library collection as the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.