“I love New Orleans. The place is a good place, but I have had a hell of alot of difficulties because of ignorance. It’s not just New Orleans, though. Ignorance with power is everywhere.”
Times-Picayune; May 26, 1993
Born May 4, 1901, San Miguel de Mezquital Zacatecas, Mexico
Served with Revolutionary Forces in Northern Mexico under several Generals including Pancho Villa: 1913-1920
Entered U.S.A. at El Paso, Texas: 1920. Worked in an art store and apprenticed to a photographer.
Studied at the Art Institute of Chicago under Larado Taft: 1924-27, remained in Chicago until 1929 completing many commissions of architectural sculpture including wood reliefs carved for the Palmolive Building (1928) now the National Historic Register.
Came to New Orleans in 1929. Joined Franz Blom and Tulane University’s expedition to Yucatan, Mexico to reproduce the Quadrangle of the Nunnery at Uxmal for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
Lived in New Orleans with frequent trips to Mexico during the 1930’s.
Executed many private and public commissions including a great many in City Park. Directed WPA Sculpture Projects and taught at the Arts and Crafts School.
Served with the U.S. Army Transport Services (ATS) in 1943-44.
Lived and worked after the war in New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Cuernavaca, Morelia, and New Orleans completing humdreds of works in stone, bronze, plaster, wood, metal, terra cotta and paper mache.
Died in New Orleans, Louisiana: September 13, 1999.
Like most notable New Orleanians, Enrique Alfèrez lived a colorful life which tended to overshadow his creative markers left all around the city of New Orleans and elsewhere.
Enrique Alfèrez was born into a world of art, although his father might not have viewed it that way. His father, Longinos Alfèrez, studied Art in Europe and returned to Mexico where he established himself as a carver of religious statues for churches and hacienda chapels. Longinos considered himself a craftsmen above an artist.
Enrique came into the world on May 4, 1901. He spent his formative years growing up in the small town of San Miguel de Mezquital, Zacatecus with his six brothers and sisters. By the time he was eight years old he was assisting his father in the workshop when they moved to the larger town of Durango, Durango. He spent 10 years in the military serving under Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution after he was caught trying to run away from home and was forced into service. It was after his escape to El Paso that he began to pursue a career as an artist by enrolling himself into the Art Institute of Chicago after being inspired by a lecture given by Lorado Taft (1860 – 1936).
At the Taft studio, Alfèrez was exposed to the Breaux-Arts tradition which was then on the decline. The years of apprenticeship under his father made him a quick study and he flourished under the tutelage of Taft. Alfèrez began to hit his stride during the Art Deco period. The greatest example of his work during this period (1928) are the twenty-four wood reliefs at the Palmolive (now Playboy) Building in Chicago.
It was in 1929 that Alfèrez arrived in New Orleans for the first time on his way to Mexico. The local art life in the French Quarter was so attractive to him that he never made it to Mexico that time. His first commission was to carve statues of Mary and three saints on the facade of the Church of the Holy Name of Mary in Algiers. He befriended Franz Blom, the director of the Tulane University’s Middle America Research Institute and joined him on a trip to Mexico where they made a full-scale plaster cast of the facade of the Nunnery buildings of the Mayan ruins at Uxmal in Yucatan which was displayed at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. He returned to New Orleans as a permanent member of the City’s art community and during the next decade received numerous public art commissions, taught at the Arts and Crafts Club in the French Quarter and directed the Works Progress Administration’s sculpture program.
Alfèrez then versed himself in the principals of the Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth Architectural firm who designed one of the countries greatest examples of the Art Deco style, the State Capital building in Baton Rouge. During the 1930’s he went on to work with them on many state projects Charity Hospital Complex being the most notable. Also notable during this time period are two fountains, one in City Park and one at the Lakefront Airport. Alfèrez went on to direct the sculpture program for a number of WPA (Works Progress Administration) projects most of which were included in the renovation and rebuilding of City Park. During World War II he served briefly in the Mexican Army and then in the US Army Transport Service. For five years after the war, he lived in New York and other cities designing furniture and women’s fashion accessories. He also began to take up part time residence in Mexico.
Enrique Alfèrez returned to New Orleans in 1950. The “less is more” aesthetic of the Bauhaus School led to a steep decline in commissions which meant Artists now had to depend on private patronage rather than civic or governmental. His only major art project during this time at the Municipal Courts Building ended in disaster.
After a fifty year break from public commissions, Alfèrez was commissioned by corporate patron, Joseph Canizaro, to create sculptures outside of the Louisiana Land and Exploration Tower on Poydras.
During Enrique Alfèrez’s career, he followed the historical development of sculpture in America from the Breaux-Arts ideal to the Art Deco successes and through the personal development of the post-War period. He has left his mark on the city of New Orleans by creating a unique treasury of public sculpture that will be enjoyed by many for years to come.
Credit: E. John Bullard