What goes into “Corn Mothers” portraits

The photographic and narrative preservation exhibit honors women across the southwest and Colorado for the contributions to their respective communities.
3 min. read
A portait of Lucy López Dussart Lucero, taken by Todd Pierson, is one of dozens of portraits up at History Colorado for an exhibit og the “Return of the Corn Mothers” project. Oct. 20, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Todd Pierson will visit a site two to three times in search of the perfect backdrop for a corn mother portrait. The purple wildflowers along the Flatirons Vista trail were not in full bloom until his third visit. Pierson and his photo assistant then carried heavy photo equipment up the trail to capture Elena Holly Klaver's Corn Mother portrait at dawn.

"I'm trying to make an image that is compelling enough to make the viewer stop and hear the stories of each woman," Pierson said.

In conjunction with Women's History Month and Month of Photography, History Colorado is hosting a free artist talk with "Return of the Corn Mothers" exhibition photographer, Todd Pierson.

Photographer Todd Pierson and his portraits of the "Corn Mothers" on display in History Colorado. March 10, 2023.
Isaac Vargas/Denverite

Attendees will learn about the history of the project, the thought behind his portraits, and the technical and logistical challenges of working on location.

"They are going to hear about the technical side and what it takes to logistically make these (portraits) happen. Trying to line up schedules and considering things like weather in Southern Colorado, which got a ton of rain last summer, was pretty challenging at times. It's all really a collaboration between the subject and I," said Pierson.

"Return of the Corn Mothers" is a photographic and narrative preservation exhibit that celebrates women in the southwest and Colorado who are pillars of their respective communities.

The event will take place this Saturday, March 18 from 11-12 p.m. at History Colorado, 1200 Broadway.

"People that are coming to see the exhibition are seeing familiar faces," says Renee Fajardo, who created the corn mothers project. She's currently the program director for the Journey Through Our Heritage program at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "When you come to this exhibition you see a multicultural, multigenerational fabric of who we are in Colorado."

More than a decade's worth of portraits by Todd Pierson honor women in this "Return of the Corn Mothers" display, up currently at History Colorado. Oct. 20, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

With a deep familial history in Colorado and the Chicano movement, Lucha Aztzin Martínez de Luna has committed her career to preserving the visual legacy of Colorado.

"Murals are textbooks," she says. "They tell stories about communities and the majority of them in our communities have been erased. I'm trying to protect the ones that are still left," Martínez de Luna said.

Martínez de Luna is the executive director of the Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project, a grassroots organization that advocates to preserve the visual heritage of Colorado. She is also a director of La Providencia Archaeological Project and a visiting professor at the University of Science and Arts in Chiapas, where she directs an archaeological field school at the Zoque site of O'na Tök, a Preclassic to Postclassic regional center in western Chiapas.

Martínez de Luna is part of 2022's Corn Mother class and said she was deeply honored by the nomination but didn't feel like she deserved it at the time.

"Women are rarely recognized for what they do in the community so this is hopefully a move in the right direction for all of the women. Looking at these photographs will inspire them," Martínez de Luna said.

"Si se puede. Yes you can," is what she'd say to the next generation of women.

"Return of the Corn Mothers" will be on display until September 2023.

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