The publisher of Rudolfo Anaya’s book first spotted El MoisÃ©s’ work in a lowrider show in Santa Fe.
The play featured a stylized roadrunner, just the animal needed for the New Mexico author’s first children’s book, “Owl in a Straw Hat.”
The reunion would produce a trio of children’s books. The most recent, “New Mexico Christmas Story”, (Museum of New Mexico Press) marks Anaya’s last work. The man considered the grandfather of Chicano literature died in 2020.
âHe had to approve the images,â El MoisÃ©s said. âAfter editing, we met. He didn’t make a lot of changes at all. He really liked the imagination I had towards his literature.
Infused with the magic of ChimayÃ³ on Christmas Eve, the book continues the story of main character Ollie Tecolote and his school of wisdom classmates Uno the Unicorn, Jackie Jackalope, Bessie Beaver, Sally Skunk, Robbie Rabbit. and Ninja Raccoon. Teacher Nana prepares her students for the evening Christmas parties, making posole and chili pepper for dinner. Then they walk to the Santuario to visit the Santo NiÃ±o.
Known for her 1972 classic âBless Me, Ultima,â Anaya has written over a dozen children’s books.
âHe saw the characters through the words,â said El MoisÃ©s. âI said, ‘You practically wrote it for me.’ “
Born in Baja, California, the Albuquerque artist grew up in Yuma, Arizona and Phoenix before moving to New Mexico. He is completely self-taught.
âMy mom said I’ve been drawing since I was 2 at the kitchen table,â he said. âI just knew I wanted to do this. My kindergarten teacher told me: âYou are an artistâ. I didn’t even know what it was.
At 13, a businessman pays him under the table for a sign painting. Then he drew characters for company logos.
Today, he is known as a modern-day artist bringing the essence of urban culture and neighborhood flavor to traditional fine art, rooted in the visual traditions of Mexican-American pop culture and lowrider cars.
He gets up at 4.30am, works until 10.30pm with the help of three of his five children who still live at home. He painted murals and commissions, and designed pictures for the New Mexico United football team.
A curator at the Smithsonian Institution recently interviewed him for a lowrider project.
âI really feel honored,â he said.
His move to New Mexico 17 years ago stems from a book report he wrote in sixth grade. He was leafing through library books about Mexico when he came across New Mexico.
âI was like, ‘New Mexico? United States? What is this?’ he said. “I saw old cars, food like chili and chili ristras, and fell in love with it.”
He splashes his cartoon-like creatures in bright, vivid colors that are reminiscent of children’s books. He says it all goes back to when he got coloring books for Christmas. His family did not have much money, so he saved his books by tracing the outlines of the characters in the window.
âThat’s where my outlines come from,â he said.
âI was a great storyteller,â he continued. âI tell stories with my art. And I wanted to get into children’s books.
He often sells his work in restaurants in Albuquerque and Phoenix.
He and Anaya shared a lot in common, he said.
âThat’s what I miss – talking about years gone by and talking about Chicano artwork. He said I had an old soul.