Saturday, January 21, 2012

Basque Carvings Come to Life in Reno

This rubbing is simply titled, "Cowboy."
I had the pleasure of attending the opening reception last night for the new Basque Aspen Art Rubbings exhibit at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno. In the early to mid-1900s, male Basque sheepherders carved various figures and messages on aspen trees in groves all over Northern Nevada. Most notably the arborglyphs depicted the lives they left behind in France and Spain (the Pyrenees) before they immigrated to the U.S., animals such as deer and sheep, and the opposite sex.

This particular exhibit focuses on carvings that were found in Sierra Nevada groves and meadows by the husband-and-wife team of Phillip and Jean Earl. They began exploring these areas in 1969 and ultimately assembled a collection of more than 130 wax-on-muslin rubbings that preserved the carvings that would otherwise be lost over time due to environmental changes. The Earls have published their findings in a new book, Basque Aspen Art of the Sierra Nevada, published by Baobab Press.

The exhibit is located in the Historical Society's main hall that greets visitors as they walk inside the building located on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Rubbings of cowboys, women, animals, moons, dates, and an actual carving preserved on an aspen stump are just a few of the items you'll see at the new exhibit, on display until April 14. The image below, taken at the Historical Society, explains the exhibit in more detail. The building also contains a gift shop, library, and museum and is open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The library hours are noon to 4 p.m. on those same days.

For an intriguing perspective of Basque history in Nevada, read Robert Laxalt's "The Sheepmen," originally published in 1977. Charlie Johnston's story about Basque dining is also an informative, complementary read. Finally, if books such as the Earls' interest you, visit to learn about many more that focus on the state's culture and history.—Matthew B. Brown, Nevada Magazine Editor

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