Acquisitions: Eduardo Carrillo Papers

By Matthew Simms
November 13, 2019
Detail of display from El Centro de Arte Regional

This entry is part of an ongoing series highlighting new acquisitions. The Archives of American Art collects primary source materials—original letters, writings, preliminary sketches, scrapbooks, photographs, financial records, and the like—that have significant research value for the study of art in the United States. The following essay was originally published in the Fall 2019 issue (vol. 58, no. 2) of the Archives of American Art Journal. More information about the journal can be found at

Drawing by Eduardo Carrillo
Eduardo Carrillo. Sketch of a flowering plant, 196-?. Eduardo Carrillo papers, circa 1953-1999. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Eduardo Carrillo (1937–1997) was born and raised in Los Angeles, where he studied art and design at the University of California. Drawings and sketchbooks from the late 1950s in the artist’s papers attest to the quality and range of his student work in watercolor, drawing, and collage. After graduation, Carrillo traveled to Madrid, where he continued his art training. A worn, reddish drawing portfolio contains sketches from this period, mostly nudes and some still lifes. By 1962 Carrillo was back in Los Angeles, but before long he felt an urge to connect with his Mexican roots. In the later 1960s he lived in his father’s ancestral homeland of La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur, where he founded a regional art center to revive interest in Indigenous craft traditions. Photographs in the Archives’ collection show the center’s yard and kilns, where local artisans worked, and the crafts they produced.

The bulk of Carrillo’s papers relate to his long career at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), on whose faculty he served from 1972 to 1997. Carrillo developed an extensive studio art curriculum there, including courses in drawing, mural painting, native pottery, and even shadow puppetry. His classes connected with the historical traditions that concerned him, allowing students to engage art forms that were, as he described in his papers, “common to all cultures.” Carrillo also developed courses in art history, such as his popular survey “Mexican Art 1000 BC to Cortez,” represented in the collection by maps, readings, slide lists, notes on ancient deities, student evaluations, and an artist-designed flyer. In one note, he summarizes the dualism of the self, according to Indian cosmology. Tonal, he explains, refers to “all that one has identified, witnessed, weighed, judged, assessed.” Nagual, conversely, refers to something that “existed before we were born and after death.” The perplexed-looking expression in what may be a self-portrait on the facing page injects a sense of levity amidst such weighty notions.

Researchers will discover in Carrillo’s papers his abiding ambition not only to connect with his Mexican heritage but also to share it with others through art and education. In 1982, for example, the artist organized an important exhibition and conference at UCSC entitled Califas: Chicano Art and Culture in California. The project, as Carrillo outlined in a report at the Archives, created a forum for discussing “the complex relationships found between the art and cultural history of California’s Chicano population.” In 1988, Carrillo again turned his attention to ancestry, producing a film about shark fishermen in the Sea of Cortez. A document tucked in a spiral notebook sketches the opening shots: “On beach / Blood in water / Sharks in water / Dragging sharks up to be weighed,” and so on. The film, for which the artist’s son, Ruben, served as cameraman, dramatized what Carrillo described as “the experiences of a young Chicano returning to the land and the people from whom he descends, to discover and explore his heritage.” Carrillo’s papers represent an important addition to the substantial and growing number of collections dedicated to West Coast Chicano artists at the Archives.

Matthew Simms is the Gerald and Bente Buck West Coast Collector at the Archives of American Art.

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