CERVANTEZ, PEDRO (1914-1987)
Born at Wilcox, Arizona, on May 19, 1914, artist Pedro Lopez Cervantez took his father's last name–instead of his mother's, as usually dictated by Hispanic tradition–because he had been told of an earlier Cervantes who had been a great man. His mother was a Mexican Indian whose parents ran a pottery at Durango, Mexico, before the Mexican Revolution. Cervantez's father, of Spanish descent, worked for the Santa Fe Railroad at Texico, New Mexico. Pedro Cervantez lived most of his life in Texico and Clovis, New Mexico, and across the Texas border at Farwell. Most of his painting focused on life in the Plains of eastern New Mexico, combining a Regionalist style with a hybrid surrealism.
Cervantez began painting in oils about 1930. He assisted artist Russell Vernon Hunter (1900–1955) on Hunter's mural The Last Frontier (1934), a Public Works of Art Project for the DeBaca County Courthouse at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Allegedly, Cervantez was disappointed in not receiving any credit for his work on the mural. Nevertheless, Hunter continued as his mentor.
Later, Cervantez made easel paintings for the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project, exhibiting most of his New Deal productions at the Museum of Fine Arts at Santa Fe. In 1938 Cervantez's work was included in the exhibition "Masters of Popular Painting: Modern Primitives of Europe and America" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He was one of the first Hispanic artists in the United States to receive national attention.
Cervantez enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 and was stationed in Italy and Germany during World War II. Following the war he worked as a sign painter for the Coca Cola Bottling Company at Clovis for a number of years. He never regained his prewar recognition and never truly returned to easel painting, about which he felt some bitterness. He died at Clovis on July 3, 1987, after many years as a public school custodian. Ironically, some of his New Deal easel paintings hang at Melrose (New Mexico) High School. His paintings were featured in a recent exhibition, "Sin Nombre: Hispana and Hispano Artists of the New Deal Era," at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.
Michael R. Grauer Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum