New Mexico Magazine

Paula Castillo in her studio. Photographs by Gabriella Marks.


WOMAN OF STEEL: Belén artist Paula Castillo fuses metallic cast-offs into fantastical sculptures that evoke her sense of family and place. Article by Alicia Inez Guzmán for New Mexico Magazine

RÍO GRANDE COLCHA, a massive welded sculpture, unfolds like a circulatory system across the facade of the New Mexico History Museum, near the Santa Fe Plaza. It’s a visual hybrid, a bird’s-eye view of the Río Grande and its tributaries depicted with the floral flourishes of colcha embroidery, as if the branches of the river were sprouting blossoms. If the sculpture is about anything, it’s the relationship of the river to histories of sheepherding in New Mexico. But Paula Castillo’s sculptures are never wholly representational. They work on another, subtler register, one that evokes place but also underscores the material qualities of metal.

Pendant sculptures are installed nearby, including Barco y Sierra, which is composed of small metal circles whose edges she welded together by hand to form the dimensions of a boat. Each looks like a cell endlessly multiplying across the irregular planes.

In Dos Arboles, Dos Hermanas, two parallel shoots run vertically from the bottom of the two-story museum to the very top, or from the earth to the sky. They are semi-abstract forms made by stacking small disks of metal like long spinal cords, the texture and height loosely recalling New Mexico’s forests of Douglas firs and their significance to Tewa and Hispanic people.

The final touch in the installation is a simple quote borrowed with permission from Nambé Pueblo and inscribed on the surface of a nearby but hard-to-find wall: “My home over there, now I remember it.” Together, the sculptures meditate—deeply and powerfully—on New Mexico, the artist’s home.

It’s a state where Castillo has become a prolific and thoughtful public artist. Her sculptures, welded assemblages, and concrete monoliths can be found in an Albuquerque arroyo (Arroyo Flowers), on the main campus of the University of New Mexico (One Hundred Miles of Numbered Mountain), along César Chávez Boulevard (César Chávez Tribute), in Albuquerque, in a park in Belén (Aquila), and of course at the New Mexico History Museum. She is also nationally renowned, as the only representative from this state included in the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ 2018 exhibition, “Heavy Metal Women.”