The Sparks Museum & Cultural Center presents MOUNTAIN PICASSOS: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin on display from June 17 to August 12. The exhibit 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. 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.
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.
Curated by Sheryln HayesZorn (Nevada Historical Society) and Patricia A. Atkinson (Nevada Arts Council Folklife Program), in consultation with the UNR Center for Basque Studies and Jean and Phillip Earl. MOUNTAIN PICASSOS: 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.