Rini Templeton (born Lucille Corinne Templeton in Buffalo, New York, in 1935) lived and worked in Taos and Northern New Mexico during the ‘60s and ‘70s, a time of great national social upheaval. We know her largely through a score of graphic works and drawings she produced in the United States and Central America in support of an array of workers’ and women’s struggles for social justice.
One June afternoon in 2007, I stumbled upon her work at Cemanahuac Spanish School in Cuernavaca, Mexico. At the time, I was boarding with a Mexican family and enrolled in a Spanish immersion program. That afternoon, I was drawn like a magnet to a series of bold, expressive artworks hanging in one of the larger salas off a stone patio. A crowd had gathered there, too, listening to a teacher from Oaxaca speaking about the struggle for teachers’ rights. I listened for a while and then started reading from a book about Templeton and her art. To my surprise, the essayI was reading was written by Taos author John Nichols. And as I read, I learned Templeton lived for a time with then-husband, Taos artist John DePuy, in a small house on an expanse of sagebrush atop Pilar Hill. There in 1970, with the help of Nichols, she published The New Mexican Review, described by Nichols as “a liberal, muckraking journal.” One of Templeton’s images was included in Nichols’ book, “The Milagro Beanfield War.” I learned, too, that following her death in Mexico in 1986, her ashes were scattered in Pilar, four years after I’d moved there.
Piecing together her life’s story, “El Arte de Rini Templeton,” published in 1988, organizes her art into two chapters of “Obras/ Works,” and through them her remarkable story unfolds. Las Obras chronicles not only her life and travels, but also the significant social movements of the time. These works are largely uncredited to her, having been produced and copied for the fliers, banners, posters and T-shirts related to the many movements she supported. Templeton called her definite black-and-white images “Xerox art” because activists and organizers could easily copy them for use, whenever needed. Templeton’s involvement didn’t stop at producing art — she joined activists at their meetings, demonstrations and picket lines.
She was in Cuba in 1959 when Castro came to power, later teaching in the literacy campaign and even cutting sugarcane. By the ‘60s, she was in Northern New Mexico, where she embraced the Chicano movement. Her drawings for El Grito del Norte, based in Espanola, told of the land struggles of the time. In 1966, she married DePuy, though they were separated by 1973. During those years, she participated in several art shows in Taos, including two at the Stables Art Gallery of the Taos Art Association.
By the mid-’70s, she had moved to Mexico, though returned to Albuquerque to work on her book, “450 Years of Chicano History,” published by the Chicano Communications Center. Later, she traveled to Panama and back to Mexico, where she joined a graphics group of artists and helped create the Mexican Cultural Workers Front. Much of her unsigned work was generated during this period of engagement with political actions and marches across Mexico. By 1980, she was in Nicaragua training activists in how to produce political and educational materials.
Following “Las Obras” chapters are a short chronology of her life plus an extended section, simply titled “Recuerdos de Rini.” Here is where we find poignant stories about her life from those who knew her, including a poem written to her by well-known San Cristobal musician the late Cleofes Vigil, who wrote, in part:
“With a smile of pleasure/Con sonrisa de gusto y placer
And a courteous greeting/y saludos cortesanos
She knew what a commitment was/Sabia que era un deber
When she held out her hand/Cuando estrechaba la mano.”
The late Jenny Vincent’s remembrances are also included, and she states her friendship with Templeton began about 1960 when her husband, Craig, was publisher and editor of El Crepusculo . Back then, Edward Abbey worked for a time as a reporter while Templeton was the art editor.
San Cristobal writer and activist Enriqueta Vasquez recalled first meeting Templeton in Denver in 1967: “Framed by bangs and ponytails, two big brown smiling eyes looked at me and a strong hand reached out to grasp mine. A sweet, almost whispering voice said, ‘Hi, I’m Rini.’ I knew almost instantly that I had met someone very special, with an important mission for herself and life.”
That afternoon at Cemanahuac Spanish School, Templeton’s important mission punched out from the black-and-white images hanging on the walls. There was no ignoring the powerful presence Donde Hay Vida: farmers bent over in fields, miners, steelworkers, women pushing supermarket carts, children flying kites. And while my Spanish ability has surely faded, the memory of these works of art has not. Her house atop Pilar Hill has been lovingly restored and renamed Rini’s Place.
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