Library of Congress

Poetry and Literature

The Library of Congress > Poetry & Literature > La Casa de Colores > El Jardín > Mission Gráfica/La Raza, San Quentin Arts, and Elizabeth Catlett Collections
{ site_name: 'Poetry', subscribe_url:'/share/sites/library-of-congress/poetry.php' }
La Casa de Colores, Hosted by Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2015-

Juan Felipe Herrera Discusses the Mission Gráfica/La Raza, San Quentin Arts, and Elizabeth Catlett Collections with Katherine Blood

SPEAKER: Juan Felipe Herrera, Katherine Blood
EVENT DATE: 2015/09/11
RUNNING TIME: 8 minutes
TRANSCRIPT: View Transcript (link will open in a new window)

As part of his "La Casa de Colores" project, Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera discusses graphic art from the Library's Mission Grafica/La Raza and San Quentin Arts collections as well as "Gossip" by Elizabeth Catlett.

Speaker Biography: Juan Felipe Herrera is the 2015-2016 Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. In 2012, he was named poet laureate of California. Herrera is a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for "Half the World in Light" and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1990, Herrera was a distinguished teaching fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and he has taught elsewhere, including in prisons. He is the author of more than 25 books of poetry, novels for young adults and collections for children, most recently "Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes," a picture book showcasing inspirational Hispanic and Latino Americans. Herrera's most recent collection of poems is "Senegal Taxi."

Speaker Biography: Katherine Blood is curator of fine prints in the Prints and Photographs Division.

Back to top


When Prints & Photographs Division Fine Prints Curator Katherine Blood walked me through select silk screens from La Raza Graphics from San Francisco's early eighties, lino-cut prints from San Quentin's print-making studio, and Elizabeth Catlett's mixed-media work, it was as if my art soul was dancing before me—on the table. Many of my friends were part of the printmaking and Bay Area art world—photographers, silk-screeners, muralists, and poets, of course!  We all worked to dream up a better world together—this was the key. As Katherine says, printmaking can be a form of activism and simultaneously contain the dance, music, poetry and spirit of the community. People, yes, real people are the makers of art. You and me—we can pour our life-magic onto paper, push it with color, brush it on the smooth channels of litho stones, digitize and mix it up in as many ways that passion can ignite. Write a poem using diverse elements, colors, and textures from different places and times. Mash it all up and print it from your mind and heart onto the wild turquoise sheets of the world. Then—give it away.

- Juan Felipe Herrera

Burning Silk with Your Eyes
                                    —for all new silk-screen artists

                                    After you set the screen - square
With the blistered hazel wood & you
Have aligned the mountain's glass
With scattered guitars of the ancient ones
& the new wiggler tiger in anemone sashes

Rough-cut housing where we live & love
Side to side Flamenco & tilted California bus lines
Roads made of roads bronzed & ruby
From Huehuetenango
               Puerto Libertad
                           Bavaria & Berlin &
                                     Palestine & Chad
                                                Pachuca & Tijuana

Ruffle the ink smear the fuzz deepen the indigo
                         Tucan yellow Grandfather Fire beak
spirit clamber up the Mother Ocean threads 
             see it see it see your beauty
See see it all all of it across the darkened wax
                      hammered hand-pressed & the chakra print work
Follow your belly-button celebration rebirth

            for your transcendent announcement aurora


—Juan Felipe Herrera

Back to top

Curator's Comments

Working with Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera makes it easy to imagine a fantastic garden where Woody Guthrie meets Pablo Neruda and Rembrandt makes sketches in a leafy corner while Nahua community members discuss an important legal case nearby. El Jardín embraces all countries, people, languages, and time periods. It is filled with plantings by extraordinary thinkers and creators—all made welcome by its resident poet-gardener.

Among them are California Bay Area artists and poets whose works have personal resonance for Juan Felipe. His memories were triggered by two works by Herbert Sigűenza—a 1978 poster celebrating the 8th anniversary of the bilingual newspaper El Tecolote and a 1982 illustrated calendar page from La Raza Graphic Center.  Juan Felipe recalls working with Francisco X. Alarcón, Victor Martínez, Susan Martínez and others to grow and co-edit El Tecolote Literario during the 1980s. He also worked at Galería de la Raza and other area community centers: “I taught poetry and graphics so local Mission District poets could design, make, and print their poetry - small posters, chapbooks, cards, flyer-poems, poetry paper color collages.” The El Tecolote poster features a walking figure, part contemporary and part pre-Columbian in style, whose tiled outline suggests digital pixelation seen in video game graphics of the period (the popular game Space Invaders debuted in 1978). Printed at La Raza Silkscreen Center, later La Raza Graphic Center, the calendar image shows artists in the studio—identified by the artist as Linda Lucero, Juan Fuentes, Pete Gallegos, Emmanuel Montoya, Katherine Estrella, and Sigűenza himself. Both artworks come from the Library’s Mission Gráfica/La Raza Collection, which has over 1,300 prints and posters by artists working in San Francisco and the Bay Area, including many who were active in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.

Having taught poetry in prisons, Juan Felipe was also taken with a portfolio of linocuts made by San Quentin prisoner artists. In “Broken Wing” artist Ronnie Goodman depicted himself, hunched over in a prison cell—wearing large, frayed wings and clutching paintbrushes. Above him, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo appears as a guiding spirit and symbol of hope and inspiration. Goodman has since been released and continues to create and exhibit his art.

Finally, we looked at “Gossip” by celebrated artist Elizabeth Catlett. Born in Washington, D.C., Catlett studied at Howard University before making Mexico her home base. There she joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular print collective and became the first woman professor of sculpture at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. She was a key force in the Black Arts movement—known for her portrayals of strong women, both legendary and everyday. Here, two women seem engaged in intense conversation with hands clasped and heads close together. Printed at the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, now the Brodsky Center, “Gossip” was Catlett’s first foray into digital printmaking, made after she had turned 90 years old. The resulting image is both fresh and classic, blending digital and lithographic techniques to reflect Catlett’s hallmark, sculptural style.

These are some of El Jardín’s diverse inhabitants who invite us to explore, contemplate, enjoy, debate, and perhaps develop and grow our own garden contributions.

Katherine Blood
Curator of Fine Prints, Prints and Photographs Division

Related Resources

Collection links (please search the P&P Online Catalog to see further examples):

Back to top