NEW ORLEANS—The artwork of Enrique Alferez is ingrained in the city of New Orleans and are some of the most visible adornments in the city. A new book from The Historic New Orleans Collection showcases his life in a fresh and enlightening way. The book is titled Enrique Alferez, Sculptor and is by author Katie Bowler Young.
Young was first introduced to the work of Alverez, while she was a student at the University of New Orleans. She would visit one of the artists’s more well known sculptures at the Lakefront airport and says, “I used to out to the fountain of the four winds in between classes. I wanted to learn more about Enrique Alferez.”
The Fountain of the Four Winds is the sculpture that attracted Young. Like the best of most well known works, it was created with a bit of controversy. At the time it was made, it shocked those intolerant of of nudity in public art; but it was mostly the male nudity that was the issue. A male figure in the piece was unapologetically well-endowed. Alferez, stood guard with a rifle next to his masterpiece to protect it from those who wanted to censor it. After word got out, Alferez received help from the Roosevelts in the white house, who had the final say so, believing Alferez’s art to be quite appropriate and beautiful.
Beyond the Fountain of the Four Winds, his art is everywhere you look. Charity hospital in downtown New Orleans, may be closed, but it still wears a breathtakingly intricate work of Alferez, that is over the main entrance. Most New Orleanians today and visitors know Alferez, from the Helis Foundation’s Enrique Alferez Sculpture Garden that is inside of the Botanical Garden of City Park. Recently, the New Orleans Museum of Art unveiled a new art center that is adorned with a piece titled Symbols of Communications, that was first created in 1967 for the Times Picayune Building.
Margaux Krane, the Director of Brand and Communications at New Orleans Museum of Art says, “Enrique Alferez is one of those artists that is so culturally important to the city and the more you learn about him and experience him, the more you learn about all of the different places he touched and affected and become aware of his experience as a Mexican American artist.”
Enrique Alferez was born in Mezquital, Mexico, the son of a brilliant artist who had studied in Paris. His early life was modest. At the age of 12, he ran away and found himself part of the Mexican Revolution. In 1920, he crossed the border into El Paso, where he worked as an aprentice under the great American sculptor, Loredo Taft. Nine years later, in 1929, he finds himself in a love affair with the city of New Orleans.
Alferez’s daughter, Dr. Tlaloc Alferez, is a retired infectious diseases specialist. Her job in the medical industry allowed her to have a similar passion in appreciating the human form and it’s inner workings. Today, she lives in the Irish Channel and maintains her father’s home and art studio.
“When he grew up, most people didn’t have shoes, so they either were barefoot, which made the big toe splay from the rest of the toes, or they wore huaraches, which did the same thing. In this sculpture, Moses is grabbing with his toes firmly to the mounting he is standing on and his hands are very definitive. The portrayal of hands and feet are very important for artists. That was a specialty of my father’s. I remember watching him work countless times. He was very quiet because he would be deep in thought and lost in his own world. But mamma would play classical music. It was beautiful to watch him take a piece of clay and create a three dimensional form. It was extraordinary,” says Dr. Tlaloc Alferez
Katie Bowler Young, says it was a joy for her to learn about his life, and even past all of her research, she still has questions.
“The way he contributed to the landscape of one of the most interesting cities in the United States should be a real source of pride of the people of Mexico and the Mexican diaspora community in the United States,” says Young.