Templeton, Rini (1935–1986)

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Templeton, Rini (1935–1986)

American-born artist and social activist who used her talents to create art for the masses while living in Mexico. Born Lucille Corinne Templeton in Buffalo, New York, on July 1, 1935; died in Mexico City, Mexico, on June 15, 1986; daughter of Corinne (Flaacke) Templeton and Richard Templeton III; briefly married Alistair Graham (a Scottish musician), in 1956; married a Cuban artist in early 1960s (presumably divorced shortly thereafter); married John DePuy (a painter), on July 16, 1966 (separated by 1973).

Held first solo show at the TAA (Taos Art Association) Stables Gallery (an artists' cooperative) in Taos (November 1–14, 1969); worked in a loose alliance with a group of artists known as the Taos Moderns.

Rini Templeton was born in 1935 in Buffalo, New York, into a middle-class family who, she said, "took their children, as soon as they could walk, to the beach in the summer and the museum in the winter." During World War II, the Templetons moved to Washington, D.C., where her father worked for the Bureau of the Budget. In 1945, ten-year-old Rini's first public display of talent, a poem about V-E Day, was published in the Washington Evening Star.

In July 1946, the family moved to Chicago. Given an I.Q. test, Templeton scored so high officials were disbelieving, and the test was administered twice more. Because they were finally convinced of the results, Templeton received a full scholarship to the Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, a school primarily set up for faculty children; while there, she was editor of the Lab School newspaper, learned photography, and built her own darkroom. From 1947 to 1949, she was a "Quiz Kid" on NBC's popular radio—and later television—show. The program was built around a panel of prodigies who answered questions in various fields; Rini's areas of expertise were Shakespeare, music (especially opera), and baseball. In 1949, she published Chicagoverse, a collection of poems.

Templeton was a rebel early on. Though she completed all courses at the Lab School, she did not receive her degree because she refused to take physical education. From 1951 to 1952, she took graduate courses at the University of Chicago, where she was on the editorial board of the newspaper, The Maroon. The entire board, however, was blacklisted because of fallout from the workings of Senator Joseph Mc-Carthy. Conflict with her parents caused her to move to a university dormitory. Then, in August 1952, the 17-year-old Templeton disappeared from home and hitchhiked through some 30 states, taking odd jobs like dishwashing. She was gone for almost 18 months. On her return, she apprenticed in the print shop of illustrator and printer Philip Reed.

With her "Quiz Kid" money, Templeton roamed Europe. Her sister Jean Templeton remembers seeing the 18-year-old off at a New York pier in mid-December 1953: "The day was cold and dreary when we went to the pier where she was to board the Rotterdam…. [A]s the ship pulled out …, I could see a lone figure up in the bow, silhouetted against the grey sky. It was Rini, alone, heading into the stormy sea." Templeton spent part of 1955–56 in Paris, lived that winter in Majorca, where she did her first known commercial art work, and in 1956 studied sculpture in England under Bernard Meadows at the Bath Academy, Corsham. She was also briefly married to a Scotsman. Returning home, she lived for a few months with an aunt before returning to her parents' home, where she set up a sculpture studio.

From 1958 to 1960, Templeton lived in Taos, New Mexico, working as art editor for the progressive newspaper El Crepúsculo (The Dawn) with Mildred Tolbert , Edward Abbey and others. She took the summer off to study sculpture with Harold Tovish at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine; she also studied printmaking at La Esmeralda, a highly respected workshop in Mexico City that would later be integrated into the National Institute of Fine Arts. She was taught etching by Isidoro Ocampo, and also studied in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

To celebrate the success of the Cuban Revolution, Templeton traveled to Cuba in January 1959 with a group of Mexican students. With the exception of a brief sojourn home to care for her convalescing mother, she remained in Cuba until November 1964. She tutored in the Literacy Campaign, cut sugar cane, taught pottery making, helped found the Taller de Grabado de Catedral de La Habana (Havana Cathedral Printmaking Workshop), and published articles and letters defending the revolution in The National Guardian (1961–62).

While in Cuba her U.S. passport expired, impeding a return home. For the 1964 Christmas holidays, she met her parents in Montreal, Canada. The following year, her father pulled strings to bring his daughter back to the States, but Templeton was told she could not teach or speak about Cuba and could not make "any propaganda in favor of the revolution." Though Templeton was not anti-American, she was against big government and big business. She once told Rodolfo Lacy:

When I was in Cuba, the Bay of Pigs invasion took place; the U.S. Ambassador told us Americans to leave, because he could not guarantee our security. A group of people, including myself, decided to stay and express our solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, and join the march against the invasion. I was the standard-bearer of our group, and I carried the U.S. flag through the streets of Havana as an expression of the people I belong to, who do not want war or exploitation in the world.

Moving to the Taos area, she became involved with Native American life and culture. The nomadic Templeton lived in a series of locations and homes, including that of painters Louis Riback and Beatrice Mandelman . In 1966, she married painter John DePuy; they set up housekeeping on Pilar Hill near Taos. "Rini had a shed where she welded her sculptures," wrote Valentina Valdez , a frequent visitor. "There was a little Coleman heater which didn't heat at all. I would go in there when Rini was working and maybe I would stay 15 or 20 minutes, then leave because it was freezing. Rini would work in there for hours."

In 1968–74, numerous exhibitions included the sculptures and silkscreens of Templeton and her husband. Working closely with the Chicano movement, she was staff artist for the newspapers El Grito del Norte and the New Mexico Review, and for the Rio Arriba People's Clinic and the Agricultural Cooperative of Tierra Amarilla. She also worked at the Taller Gráfico, a silkscreen plant in an old parochial school in the village of Los Ojos that produced calendars, cards and prints. Working late into the night, she would rise at dawn the next day. Templeton continued to print flyers and posters, placing them in strategic places throughout northern New Mexico. One of her heroes was Mexican engraver José Guadalupe Posada, who printed political satire against dictator Porfirio Díaz on cheap paper, selling them for a few centavos.

Turning away from sculpture, Templeton moved to Mexico City in late 1974, to study printmaking in a country known for its graphic tradition. She first stayed with Spanish photographer Manolo, then settled in San Jerónimo, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Since graphics could be mass produced (Templeton called it Xerox art), she felt it had a more immediate impact on people and could convey a cultural reality vividly and cheaply. Other art was an indulgence during difficult times; it was too costly to be made available to ordinary people. Said Templeton:

Sculpture seems to me to have a basically celebrative character—which I guess is why I love it, and always have one corner of hope of getting back to it someday. But it seems to me that in this particular time, in this continent, it is not really a time for celebration. At least not in any context I have been able to find, to make and place sculpture. There is a Uruguayan writer, Benedetti, who speaks of the "Art of Emergency." And in two senses: because our times are times of crisis, of emergency, and, says this writer, remember the other sense of the word, remember the verb To Emerge. Be aware that the people of our continent are emerging. Make what can be an art of emergence …. That says better than I could what I'm trying to do.

Templeton joined the Taller de la Gráfica Popular (TGP, Popular Graphic Workshop), started by Leopoldo Méndez during the 1930s, as well as the Taller de Arte e Ideologia (Art and Ideology Workshop) and Punto Crítico (Critical Point) magazine. Again she spent long periods of time in workshops. "It was quite normal to see her leave and come back 15 or 20 days later, in an old car where she seemed to carry everything she owned: a change of clothes, her work materials, some blankets and a little food," wrote fellow worker Reynaldo Olivares. "We were poor in those days but our work was intense."

We must abandon all forms of cultural arrogance.

—Rini Templeton

Templeton made many trips back to the United States. Touring the West Coast, she proposed an exhibit on history of Mexico for Chicanos. She also designed the books 450 Years of Chicano History for Chicano Communications Center and Beyond the Border: Mexico and the U.S. Today, and a translation of Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros' book Como se pinta un mural (How to Paint a Mural).

Still an activist, Templeton also traveled throughout Mexico to strikes and marches. Her unsigned drawings filled the publications of diverse movements. Invited by the Sandinista government, Templeton journeyed to Nicaragua in 1980 to train others in producing agit-prop materials.

Throughout the 1980s, Templeton worked for the homeless, and joined any group engaged in struggle: movements for labor, Chicano, land-grant, revolutionary, and social justice. Leaving San Jerónimo in late 1984, she moved to a rooftop room in Mexico City where she worked under the sky and from which she could see the mountains and the city. After the May Day march of 1985 in Mexico City, the Mexican police pursued her for being "a foreigner participating in Mexican politics," but Templeton loved Mexico. In a May 28, 1981, letter concerning the death of Chicana leader Magdalena Mora , she wrote:

Magdalena is buried high on a Michoacán hillside, you can see the farms and towns, there are highways and mines, old milpas and high trees, mountains into the distance. Once dead, there is no better place that she could be. Except where she also is, in the hearts of us who had the joy to know her, and who now have the responsibility to carry forward her loving and combative spirit in the fight for the construction of socialism sin fronteras.

Out of the country during the 1985 Mexican earthquakes, Templeton returned to organize and fund raise. Her last trip to the United States was in 1986.

A tall woman with long, blonde hair and bangs, who spoke flawless Spanish, Rini Templeton was described as warm and loving, but intensely private. Though she would talk revolution and politics into the night, she was reticent when it came to family. After a 1985 family reunion in Hawaii, she wrote a friend that it was a good meeting: "Neruda said, don't forget the rocks." Because of an aversion to telephones, Templeton was known for her sudden disappearances and just as sudden returns. She was also an intrepid smoker of filterless Delicados who barely took time out for eating or sleeping; her self-imposed 16-hour work days took their toll.

On June 15, 1986, Rini Templeton's body was found in her room, where she had died suddenly and alone, days before, of natural causes: her heart had given out. Her ashes were kept at the U.S. Embassy, where she had so often stood outside in protest, then scattered in New Mexico. In Mexico City, a memorial was held on June 23 and the Rini Templeton Center of Graphic Documentation was established. After the Mexican earthquake, 400 apartments were given to earthquake victims. Units in the housing complex were named after Mexican heroes; one was named Rini Templeton. "Rini lived in an exciting era," noted Enriqueta Vásquez , "when history was for the making…. Chicanos were learning, teaching, experimenting and experiencing great change. We were on fire, alive, vibrant with a cause. It was a time of structuring a new tomorrow, and everybody or anybody was needed. It was an era of planting new seeds and the seeds were carried by many. Rini was such a carrier." Rini Templeton left behind sculptures, dozens of silkscreen prints, over 100 sketchbooks, over 9,000 drawings, and the oft-repeated saying, "Where there is life and struggle, there is Rini Templeton."


El Arte de Rini Templeton: The Art of Rini Templeton. Foreword by John Nichols. Mexico, D.F.: Centro de Documentación Gráfica Rini Templeton; Seattle, WA: The Real Comet Press, n.d.

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