By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
NEWTON—Raymond Olais calls himself an art-cheologist.
This is because he uses art to find information about the past.
It all started when he and his wife, Patrice, used likenesses from photos for the mural they painted in 1978 for the 30th anniversary of the Newton Mexican-American Men’s Fast Pitch Tournament, which l led us to reflect on the history of images.
“The images in the mural inspired me to dig deeper,” Olais said.
The Olaises hold an art exhibition at the Koehn Gallery at the Carriage Factory Art Gallery, 128 E. Sixth St. in Newton. Alongside this, Raymond will be giving a talk on “Every Mural Tells a Story” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 9, at the gallery. There is no cost to attend.
“Art-cheologist Raymond Olais will explain how a mural painted 44 years ago to celebrate [the tournament] led to documenting the rich history of Newton’s Mexican community,” a flyer said.
Their art exhibition, consisting of 24 pieces, will end on Saturday, June 11.
“I still love that artistic part that inspired me,” Raymond said, adding that he was inspired by Chicano artists.
The Olaises are retired art teachers from Newton High School and they both keep busy.
“Sometimes I work on art,” Raymond said. “Sometimes I work on historical stuff.”
The show represents their life’s work.
“It’s through all the years – past, present and in between,” Patrice said. “I guess you can add the future because it has robots.”
These robots are depicted in sculptures and paintings, and their art has a Hispanic cultural connection/style.
Patrice has oil paintings in the show. She has all the equipment for making ceramics, like a lathe and a kiln, in the garage. They also worked on sculptures in the garage and basement.
“We just work in different places,” Raymond said. “I will work outside to do sculpture work.”
Raymond continues his research on the Mexican community of Newton. He said his June 9 lecture would be a confluence of his artistic and historical research.
In the 1990s, the Olaises organized exhibits on Mexican history for the holiday after doing research.
The mural they did in 1978 tells the story of the ballplayers, Raymond said. In the first year, they looked at Mexican bands that played from the 1920s through the 1970s. The second year included the ranchitos, as there were two camps in town. Raymond said the workers lived near the tracks at one point without housing provided by the railroad.
“Each year we focused on something different,” Raymond said, adding that other years included topics like ballplayers and the military. “There were so many things you could immerse yourself in. This is how this fresco inspired research. Instead of organizing art exhibitions, we organize historical exhibitions.
Performances have been held at various locations over the years, including the church, the historical society, and the Kauffman Museum.
Raymond still gives presentations on the history of the Mexican community in Newton. In recent presentations he has used the mural to tell the story.
“Essentially we did it backwards,” he said, adding that they had the visuals but didn’t know the stories behind them.
Along these lines, Raymond is working on a chapter for a book on Mexican ball teams in Newton.
This year’s tournament is the 74th and the oldest such tournament in the country.
To unleash his creativity, Raymond also renovates items, such as a vintage floor radio in their living room is a cabinet, and he repurposed tables.
Patrice draws and paints.
“She was always a painter,” Raymond said.
In a dining/art room, the Olaises display a variety of artwork, including a painting Patrice made of an altar, which was the first altar she created in art school. from San Francisco.
“It was the first of the beginning of many others,” Raymond said.
Patrice says it’s another way of making art.
In a guest bedroom/art studio is a papier-mâché sculpture of a 1955 Ford truck that the Olaises drove with their business from San Francisco to Kansas in 1980.
The Olaises met as students, he from California and she from Newton, at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) and married in 1980, after graduating there but before attending Emporia State. University to obtain their teaching certificates. While at SFAI, they recall one of their first dates being in the school cafeteria between classes, where the cheapest things to eat were avocado sandwiches.
“We were part of an organization there that did activities,” Patrice said, as they were members of the arts collective.
The collective has sponsored artists and organized speakers, parties and vernissages.
“They would sponsor speakers and so we would go to those,” Patrice said. “They had all sorts of relationships with the galleries, which is how we met.”
Eventually, as college students, they found themselves in the Mission District of San Francisco, which is the Hispanic neighborhood. Patrice worked at a Hispanic gallery and Raymond, who is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, has been employed by the Veterans Administration since they gave jobs to vets. The VA also helped him with tuition.