The fall of 2022 brought some new experiences to Zea Mays, courtesy of our Residency Fellowship Artist, Rosenda Alvarez Faro. Rosenda originally planned to come from Puerto Rico to Zea Mays in 2020, but had to delay for two years due to the pandemic. When she finally arrived, she brought a residency project unlike any we’d seen before!

Rosenda is a feminist activist printmaker, bookbinder and muralist. She is the co-director of Taller Malaquita in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, “a solidarity network for women artists in the Caribbean and Latin America.” The images below show some of Rosenda’s prints that she brought for a presentation for the Smith College Spanish and Portuguese Language and Gender Studies Departments. The main event of her residency took things to an even bigger scale.

Rosenda’s plan was to create a paste-paper mural on the outside of our building. Images would be cut in relief from linoleum, vinyl flooring and Sintra, then printed onto craft paper, then cut into their shapes and pasted onto the wall. For the design, Rosenda chose a mix of corn, plantain and breadfruit plants to grace the walls of Zea Mays. Corn, of course, is the plant from which our studio gets its name due to its ability to leech toxins from the earth through its roots. Plantains are a culinary staple in Puerto Rico and strongly associated with ethnic identity there. Breadfruit is another regionally beloved food, and it’s Spanish name, pana, is used as a slang term in Puerto Rico for “friend.” Together, images of these three plants form a tapestry of history, language and the mingling of cultures.

Soon, the Annex was filled with prints as Rosenda worked day and night to create all the images we would need to complete the mural. Then printing started, and the teaching studio became a whirlwind of activity. Zea Mays Printmaking members, staff, faculty, relatives and friends came in at all hours to help print and cut. Studio intern Dominique Pecce deserves a huge shoutout for working tirelessly to help Rosenda keep production flowing.

We also got some much needed help from Nueva Esperanza, Holyoke’s Puerto Rican/Afro-Caribbean community center. High school students Alex, Jahdiel, Joaneliz and Jadniel, along with Nueva Esperanza Director Kayla Rodriguez, came for two nights and wowed us with their enthusiasm and energy. It was so much fun having new faces in the studio, and we hope this is the start of a long partnership between Nueva Esperanza and Zea Mays.

We are very grateful to have received a $1000 grant from the Art Angels Grant Program, which helped us pay for materials and for stipends for the students from Nueve Esperanza.

Once the prints were done, it was time to paste them onto the building! Rosenda led this team effort for three long days in the cold, climbing up scaffolding, mixing glue and making sure that the final results looked amazing.

Paste paper murals are not meant to stick forever. If we’re lucky, ours will stay in place for up to several years. The memories of Rosenda’s visit will last for much longer. So many members of our community got to get their hands dirty, leave their mark on our building and work with a truly inspiring artist, and we couldn’t be more glad about that. Thank you, Rosenda, and thank you to everyone who joined us in this project!

Full list of mural helpers: Rosenda Alvarez Faro, Dominique Pecce, Tony Lemos, Julie Rivera, Annie Silverman, Harvey Bordett, Anne Beresford, Jenny Lopez Figueroa, Mike Hadjipateras, Alex Diaz, Kaye Carroll, Jahdiel Gonzalez, Jadniel Soto, Joaneliz Soto-Cintron, Sheldon Carroll, Sebastian Roman-Soto, Zoe Dong, Matt Simons, Nancy Diessner, Meredith Broberg, Steve Daiber and Liz Chalfin