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Nevada Arts Council exhibit highlights Basque tree carvings

CARSON CITY, Nevada – Beneath the canopy of quaking aspen groves in the high desert of Nevada can be found an outdoor art gallery and a glimpse of Basque history in the American West.

Basque tree carvings, or arborglyphs, have long been of interest to historians, Basque scholars, foresters and hikers. Carved by Basque sheepherders tending their flocks across the Great Basin, the carvings are at the crossroads where art, culture and nature come together.

The carvings are the subject of the exhibit, “Mountain Picassos: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin,” at the Nevada Arts Council’s OXS Gallery in Carson City. The exhibit debuted July 30 and will remain in place through Sept. 7.

The exhibit is based on the book of the same name by Reno’s Jean and Phillip Earl. For more than half a century, the Earls used clues from old maps, letters and books to hunt for and document “Mountain Picassos” – distinctive figures carved into aspen trees found in the high country meadows of the Great Basin.

These figures, along with the names, dates, and sayings were carved in the early to mid- 20th century. Jean Earl evolved a unique method of preserving the carvings, using canvas and artists’ wax to create rubbings – two-dimensional representations of the carvings that are works of art themselves. The Earls eventually assembled more than 130 wax-on-muslin rubbings created directly from the carvings on the aspens.

The exhibit is curated by Sheryln Hayez-Zorn of the Nevada Historical Society and Patricia A. Atkinson of the Nevada Arts Council’s Folklife Program, in consultation with the University of Nevada, Reno’s Basque Studies Program and Jean and Phillip Earl.

The “Mountain Picassos” exhibit is part of the Nevada Touring Initiative. It was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Nevada Legislature.

Managed by the Nevada Arts Council’s Artist Services Program, the OXS Gallery is located at 716 N. Carson St., Suite A, Carson City and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.