ELKO – Great Basin College presents “Mountain Picassos: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin,” a traveling exhibition that explores the unexpected intersection of art, culture and nature.

Basque tree carvings, or “arborglyphs,” 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. The exhibit comprises 26 of these rubbings along with text panels, contextual photographs and streaming video.

The exhibit is on display in the GBC Art Gallery in the Leonard Center for Student Life now through Oct. 12, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Admission is free.

The public is invited to a reception and presentation by artist Jean Earl at 4 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Leonard Center.

“Mountain Picassos” was made possible by the Nevada Art Council’s Nevada Touring Initiative, said Mica Johnson, GBC art gallery curator.

“It’s a truly wonderful program that allows public institutions to apply for curated traveling art exhibits,” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that traveling exhibits like this one gives rural areas “equal opportunity” with larger cities in displaying artwork from throughout the state.

Johnson added that attendance helps the Nevada Arts Council “determine the success and worth of NTI.”

“This is a great installation of a part of the Basque Heritage of Northern Nevada,” Johnson said.

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The exhibit 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.

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 method of preserving the carvings by using canvas and artists’ wax to create rubbings, two-dimensional representations of the carvings that are works of art themselves. The artist eventually assembled more than 130 wax-on-muslin rubbings made directly from the carvings.

The exhibit is curated by Sheryln HayesZorn of the Nevada Historical Society and Patricia A. Atkinson of the Nevada Arts Council Folklife Program, in consultation with the UNR Center for Basque Studies and Jean and Phillip Earl.

Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin is part of the Nevada Touring Initiative–Traveling Exhibition Program. It was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Nevada State Legislature. The Nevada Arts Council is a division of the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.


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