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I first met Sandra Renteria when she ran Indigena Gallery, a socially conscious moving feast of folk and outsider art that last hung out on Santa Fe Drive before its owner packed it in to pursue other concerns. A rare free spirit whose feet are firmly planted on the earth, Renteria has always cared for the poor and suffering: From the politically disenfranchised people of Haiti to those left behind on the tsunami-ravaged beaches of Thailand, she's been there to help by raising money, offering hands-on relief and bringing uplifting art experiences to remote places. She's now mulling a trip to Peru, where earthquakes have left her a new constituency to champion.

It's hard to believe that in the midst of all this good work, Renteria is also a fine folk artist in her own right, an aspect of her personality that doesn't seem so important to her at the moment. Yet the show must go on: She's taken a series of paintings inspired by her young daughter Serena's close relationship with a tsunami victim they bonded with in Thailand and wove them into A Wave of Inspiration, a beautiful children's book. The paintings and the book will be featured during grand-opening festivities this weekend at the relocated boutique Oilily, now at 3000 East Third Avenue, which Renteria touts as carrying "the quintessential folk-art line for clothing."

See Renteria's work through October 7
Sept. 7-Oct. 7, 2007



When local gallery owner and humanitarian Sandra Renteria does something charitable, she does it on her own terms. Already in the do-good business as founder of the Art Creation Foundation for Children, an organization that puts art supplies into the hands of children in troubled Jacmel, Haiti, Renteria took off for post-tsunami Thailand on a similar mission. She traveled with her two-year-old daughter, an altruistic heart and 400 pounds of art supplies in tow. Art, she feels, is a great ice-breaker for people living in dire conditions.

Now back home, Renteria will host a month-long exhibit, A Life By and of the Sea, that opens Friday, March 3, at her Indigena Gallery in northwest Denver. The show features works by children of the Moken tribe in the Surin Islands, a remote group made famous by their innate knowledge of how to survive the relentless tsunami waves. Renteria's initial goal is to help the tribe's 51 families reclaim their livelihood as fishermen by raising funds to replace lost fishing boats and underwater spears. But she also hopes to build a cultural arts center on land already offered to the cause by a group of Buddhist monks in the devastated Bansak area of Khao Lak, where she spent many days bonding with refugee villagers in tent cities.

"The Buddhist monks were the biggest cheerleaders in the world," Renteria says of the holy men who wandered the crowded camps. "It was a much-needed influence in the makeshift villages, places largely ignored by the international press, where regular funding, supplies and aid are iffy. "Some camps have thousands of people living in a tiny space," Renteria notes. "There's no privacy, and rude tourists have turned them into another tourist sight. There are actually Phuket shuttle buses bringing them in to take pictures."

It was there that she met Penn, a widow who'd lost her nine-year-old daughter and a sister to the tsunami. Penn herself was spared by fate: A hotel receptionist, she saw everything happen from the third floor (her twelve-year-old son also survived). But her life changed profoundly in a few short hours. Like nearly everyone in the camps, her focus has turned to macabre realities.

"In Thailand, people can't get aid unless a body is found," Renteria explains. "Every day, Penn must put on a mask and look at body parts to see if any are her sister or daughter." But the likelihood of finding them is slim and growing slimmer. "The majority of these people are going through the same thing. Every day, they'll hear the dogs barking and know that more body parts have been found. They'll stop and run to see. But they lived in fishing villages, right on the beach, and many of the bodies were simply swept away to sea."

Though the hotel offered Penn her old job with a pay cut, she, like many others, chose not to return to her professional life, Renteria says. "Now she weaves baskets with other women in a free-trade co-op. She can stay home with her son. The scab gets reopened every day, and they have to heal." Renteria will have a selection of the co-op's wares for sale at Indigena.

Traveling to find the Moken was an experience in itself, far removed from the squalor of the tent villages. Yet the people, considered mythical by some folks in Thailand, also live day to day without aid, on little more than a handful of rice and minnows. The tribe's been given big boats that require fuel and electric rice cookers, both useless to them without energy resources. "It's as if they've been disowned," Renteria says. Ironically, she notes, the Mokens' celebrated survival skills have left them in a catch-22 situation, without the bodies required to qualify for help. True to her questing spirit, Renteria is using her foundation to help them first. The rest, she hopes, will fall into place.




DENVER, COLORADO.-Smithsonian Artists Donate to "Art of Humanity II"
in Order to Help the War-Torn Impoverished Nation of Haiti. Woodie Long and "Miz Thang," who were recently featured in the Smithsonian Magazine, and Jane in Vain, a highly sought after Absolut Vodka artist, have donated original works of art to "The Art of Humanity" silent auction. The benefit takes place Saturday, July 16th from 5 to 11 p.m. at Indigena Gallery located at their new location on 846 Santa Fe Drive, Denver.

Other internationally acclaimed artists who have donated paintings are Turgo Bastien, Harold St. Jean and Lokken Millis. All of these artists have graced the pages of various books and publications. Over 50 paintings and gift certificates will also be up for auction. Local artists who have donated art work and will also be available for sale are Kirk Norlin, Burkhard Saur Mische, Dan Jahn, Jimmy Sellars, Tracey Barnes, and Olivia Edwards. Russian Artist Alexi Burlakov and Palm Beach photographer Judy Hoffman, will also be participating with their donated creations.

The proceeds of this event will benefit Engineers Without Borders USA
(EWB-USA) and Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC). Engineers Without Borders is currently working on a project in the outskirts of Gonaives, which was has been plagued with floods, landslides and political turmoil. ACFFC continues to burst at the seams taking on more children adding to their count of 38 children during these desperate political times. The owner of Indigena Gallery who founded ACFFC is dedicated to the country of Haiti and will be sponsoring the event to assist this war torn nation.

The benefit, being sponsored by Kimley Horn & Associates and co-sponsored by Atkinson-Noland & Associates, Inc, features live music by Katoorah Jane, tropical drinks and gourmet foods. Yak & Yeti Indian & Nepali Cuisine, Z Cuisine and other local restaurants will be donating an international fare. Tropical drinks in a Caribbean patio will be the setting for this fund-rasing event.

Tickets to "Art of Humanity" are $11 in advance and $14 at the door. To purchase tickets please send checks payable to ACFFC, c/o Indigena Gallery, 846 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80204. To reserve tickets by credit card, please call 720.855.8282. If you cannot attend the event but would like to make a donation, any amount helps

 For those who love colour!