The passion of Frederico Vigil

As Albuquerque turns 300, a gifted artist celebrates Hispanic culture in plaster and paint. Matthew Jaffe explores a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Sitting at a draftsman's table, Frederico Vigil is surrounded by paints, brushes, and the other tools of his trade. He's surrounded, too, by Madonnas, spirits, elders, philosophers, and scholars―some still pencil sketches, others glowing with brilliant, beautiful color―that seem to whirl skyward above him.

Vigil is at work on a monumental fresco, depicting centuries of Hispanic history and culture, inside El Torreón, the 45-foot tower at Albuquerque's National Hispanic Cultural Center. From the outside, the terra-cotta-colored tower appears modest in size. Inside, the skylit cylinder's concave interior seems a vast space to fill. But Vigil is less intimidated than inspired.

"This is a dream wall, an unbelievable space," Vigil says. "It reminds me of those spaces I have traveled to in Mexico, Spain, and Italy, the national buildings and chapels. Walls covered in fresco."

Vigil is completing his masterwork at an important time in the life of Albuquerque: The city marks its 300th anniversary in 2006. Vigil's work gives the city and its people a powerful new symbol that incorporates very old traditions.


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