Rosa Maria Calles (born October 15, 1949) is an Hispanic American artist, playwright, producer, and director. She is best known for her critically acclaimed stage production, Cuento de La Llorona/Tale of the Wailing Woman, and powerful interpretation of New Mexico Hispanic culture on canvas.
Birth and early life
Rosa Maria Calles was born in the small Spanish Colonial village of Tome-Adelino, New Mexico. This rural village of farms and ranches on the ancient El Camino Real provided Calles with the basis of her life's work. Her major influences came from her nana, Doña Felicitas Vallejos Calles, and the agrarian roots of village Matanzas, Hispano religious rituals and functions like Las Posadas and the famed Tome Passion Play, and daily farm life.
Rosa Maria Calles' remarkable career began as a self-taught artist during her youth when she began sketching and painting portraits and scenes derived from her roots. She quickly became well known in the surrounding towns of Los Lunas, Los Chavez and Belen, New Mexico and gained a following.
In 1972, Calles married author Ray John de Aragon and raised four children, Rosalia Cleofas, Lucia Dolores, Ramon Juan Carlos, and Linda Dulcinea. While raising a family she continued her visual career by producing a vast body of work and was published in La Confluencia Magazine, Fiesta USA by Penguin Books, and the Victorian Gazette. Calles expanded her career by working and being recognized in various artistic mediums. These mediums ranged from helping to revive the ancient art of painting on glass, which was rapidly becoming a lost art form, for churches and private collections, producing unique painted ceramic vases, oil and acrylic paintings on canvas, ceramic tile murals, acrylic murals, fiber arts, carved glass, and New Mexico Santero folk art. In all of these mediums Calles participated and was acclaimed in reviews in numerous invitational and juried shows.
As a visual artist, Calles' work has been shown at the Mexican American Museum in San Francisco, California; San Juan, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, California; and several other major US cities. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of International Folk Art, the Millicent Rogers Museum, and the Museum of Heritage and Arts all in New Mexico, and the Sacred Arts Museum in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In theatre, Calles is recognized for her major touring productions: Cuento de La Llorona/Tale of the Wailing Woman, and The Grey Eminence of Taos.
Rosa Maria Calles recalled in an interview with Kera T. Anderson of the "Vegas Victorian Gazette,
I grew up in a nineteenth century adobe home and experienced bathing in a metal tub after heating the water outside and carrying it inside in a bucket. The tub was placed in the center of the kitchen and the doorways were covered with homemade curtains. I loved eating tortillas coming off the wood stove, or the bread my nana occasionally baked in the outdoor horno. I will never forget of frequent and hurried walks leading to my grandmother's front door. Her duck following close, nipping at the back of my legs. She would stand at the door scolding her duck for biting me and holding the door open for me to enter. Retablos and santos placed carefully in tin nichos rested on walls painted from the floor to mid-way in bright yellows or greens and above the paint to the ceiling was wallpaper made from colorful magazine pages. Her small bed held a fluffy homemade mattress covered with a quilt made from used cloth. On the hard dirt floor were handmade rugs. These memories and the living culture of matanzas, passion plays, and pilgrimages up Tome Hill in New Mexico cover my painted canvases.
In 1995, I painted in oil, "Memorias," portraying the profound sentiment which I feel as a daughter, sister, mother, and nana. These paintings within a painting depict Our Lady of Guadalupe with her compassionate gaze; a woman mourning the loss of her children, tears flowing to the floor in waves leading to a painting of an older woman in luto (mourning) who has loved, lost, and gained wisdom. It also includes Doña Sebastiana, death patiently waiting. Never did I realize that this painting which came from the depths of my heart and memories would two years later, represent the anguish I felt at the loss of my two daughters, Lucia and Linda in a tragic car accident. I survived. I live.
Michelangelo said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." I believe we can set the angels free, inspire butterflies, and give wings to birds that can't fly."
In 1993 Rosa Maria Calles was selected for inclusion by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to participate in "The Art of the Santera," a significant traveling show that toured major American cities for two years. Calles then produced a large body of works on canvas, developing and perfecting a style which is unique and readily identifiable.
Stage and Film
In an attempt to reach a much broader audience through visual expression, Rosa Maria Calles sought out a new avenue. she had long entertained an idea that theatre could be used as a means to deliver an emotional and life changing message that the viewer would never forget. Calles had always been involved in community theatre as a writer and director, but she felt she could take this to a much larger scale. In 2000, she wrote, directed, and produced Cuento de La Llorona/Tale of the Wailing Woman, a two-act play replete with dialogue, music, song, and dance set in eighteenth century New Mexico. The stage production which features a very large cast of children through elderly actors revolves around the theme of the very famous centuries old female ghost from Spanish folklore, La Llorona. Calles drew her cast for the popular legend of the crying woman from professional actors to people of all walks of life who had always dreamed of being a crew, or performing on stage, but never had the opportunity. While developing her non-traditional cast and crew, Rosa Maria Calles was told she could not succeed. With a zero budget and against all odds, Calles' production experienced phenomenal success and media attention.
The reason that Cuento de La Llorona/Tale of the Wailing Woman has attracted large audiences and the attention of critics is that Calles approached the popular traditional horror legend in a non-traditional way. The playwright used her script and production as a venue to address the all-important issues of social injustice, domestic violence, date rape, racism, intolerance, bigotry, and child abuse in a vibrant and entertaining way. She has also emphasized the non-virtues of rage, jealousy and envy in contrast with the virtues of innocence, trust, and compassion. While doing so, Calles has helped build up self-esteem and self-pride in her cast and crew. These are the notable hallmarks of her work. Calles' enormously popular version of the Legend of La Llorona is being adapted by the playwright for a documentary film, and motion picture.
"Rosa Maria Calles, artistic director for Matraka Inc. wrote and produced the thrilling play (Cuento de La Llorona), which features a cast of talented New Mexican actors. The play has attracted rave reviews from critics throughout New Mexico...the story is told in the form of a spectacular stage play with music, song, dialogue, and dance that captures the very essence of Spanish Colonial traditions, heritage, culture, and history in the Southwest." Latinos In The Industry, October, 2004. A publication of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.