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Paper and glue make great art

Mexico-born artist is papier-mache master

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Most people, as kids, had a brief career as papier-mache artists — usually involving gooey strips of newsprint wrapped around balloons or chicken-wire.

Few kids, however, become as good at it as Guillermo Colmenero of Salt Lake City.

And fewer still have made it a career.

A native of Chihuahua, Mexico, Colmenero showed artistic promise as a 5-year-old when he began carving animals from cakes of bar soap. His parents could see his talent, and rather than spend money on more soap, they spent it on art class.

"The class was an hour drive from home," he says, "and it was expensive. My father would drive me. I took a few classes and that was it. To this day it's the only art class I've ever had."

As he matured, Colmenero branched out into wood carvings, oil-based clay and even some ceramics. His deft touch caught the eye of one patron who hired him, along with five other artists, to help with the artwork at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. His work still stands there.

Eventually, however, he would work his way back to his roots, back to papier-mache.

Today, when not at his job at a local warehouse, the artist tries to set himself up for a full-time sculpting career. He was a popular attraction at the recent Hispanic American Festival in Salt Lake City and will also be doing demonstrations and selling his wares at the upcoming Mexico Independence Day celebration on Sept. 16 in Provo. Most of what he makes from papier-mache is for the market — Aztec princes, Day-of-the-Dead skeletons — but he's also getting into some pre-Columbian designs and figures that push papier-mache where it's never been before.

In the future, he hopes to trade paper and scissors in for stone. He hopes to work in marble.

"I don't have a studio or a shop yet," he says. "But I hope to have one before long."

In the meantime, he's getting his name and work before the public by doing special programs for schools and trying to display his craft at public events.

There is also a chance he'll be able to open up a nice niche for himself in Mexico as a "local boy made good."

"I've taken some things back for Mexico for my mom," he says.

Don't need a crystal ball to know her reaction.

"She loved them," he says.

His father was plenty pleased with his son's work as well. Together, they recall the early days, when young Colmenero first took a knife to a bar of Ivory and the elder Colmenero would drive his son to art class. They were sweet days.

"My father tells me, 'I knew you were going to do something like this,' " Guillermo says.

With a few breaks and some luck, Guillermo Colmenero hopes to do even more.

E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com