Working at La Fragua (la menina)

In addition to all of the rich imagery in each city I visited, I also saw a lot of incredible artwork in Spanish museums. These paintings from the Prado in Madrid made me think about the act of looking, since my artwork focuses on self-presentation. Both subjects are a spectacle, but in very different ways. In this case, the painters (Velazquez – Las Meninas) and (Juan Carreño de Miranda – Eugenia Martínez Vallejo) had control over the presentation of the subjects. The Baroque Spanish court had a fascination with representations of physical or psychological anomalies. It’s a bit ironic to me that Eugenia’s body is considered abnormal due to a hormonal imbalance that is out of her control and the appearance of Infanta Margaret Theresa’s body is grotesquely altered by the traditional dress she wears. Eugenia was also painted both in traditional costume and in the nude.

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After some investigation of available materials, I decided to try working with raw clay dug directly from the yard in the convent. I did very little to refine it, sieving it through some window screen to remove stones and grass. These are some sketches I made to test out clay and composition:


I began to dig more clay and build a large version of the menina in the garden, beneath two mulberry trees. Instead of refining the clay, I added straw to increase the stability. The dome shape of her dress as well as the torso is built with this mixture.


adding sticks to support the walls as the dome curves


the torso


Eventually, I was able to get some more refined local clay from a potter in the adjacent town and used it for the details of the dress, face and hands.

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I experimented with some whitewash as a surface, since she will remain raw, unfired clay. This also references the interior walls of the convent which are coated in the same surface. Layers of coffee were also added as a stain, to give some depth to the whitewash.

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She received a bird identity because they are the most prominent animal presence I perceived in this area. Birds nest in every crevice in the convent, decorating every surface with their droppings and filling the air with shrieks at every hour of the day. I especially like the structures of the sparrows’ mud nests that are found on sides of buildings. I added nest-like structures to her dress for an interactive element. People are invited to contribute objects to these nests, altering la menina’s appearance and identity.

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