September 14, 2008

Family of Artists

This summer, the Rocha family was one of three families who exhibited work at the Fiesta Mexicana. Chris' brother, Joey, was the organizer of the exhibit, which featured the work of Chris; Patricia; two of their children, Bridget and Michelangelo; and others in Chris' family.

The family has a room in their home they use as a studio. One- half of the room is Chris' and the other half is Patricia's. Chris has his half designed to be able to create paintings, including a large oil painting on which he is working. Patricia's half has a Navajo loom a friend made for her, yarns and beads.

Besides the pen-and-ink drawings, Chris also creates portraits in pastels and recently took up oil painting again. He has been drawing since grade school.

"My grade cards used to say, 'He needs to spend more time on studies than drawing,'" he said.

Chris went on to study art in junior high, high school and college. While attending Topeka High School, he painted a mural in the weight room and was a photojournalist for the school newspaper. While at Washburn University, he worked for the school newspaper as a political cartoonist.

He now works at Hills Pet Food as an operations tech IV and painted murals in its fitness center. Chris has had his works exhibited at the Bank of America and the Topeka mayor's office.

Patricia crochets, knits, weaves, needlepoints and does beadwork. She uses tiny Japanese beads and sews them onto canvases to create purses. She then displays the purses in shadowboxes.

Sharing her love of creating with others, she is involved with two groups that get together regularly, Topeka Crochet and Knit Topeka.

Chris and Patricia are encouraging and supportive of their children's artistic bents but don't force art on them.

"I never pushed a pencil in someone's hand, but we've always had art supplies here," Chris said. "I help them if they want instruction, but I don't pressure them."

Patricia homeschools her children. She said the children have art assignments as part of their school work, but they also create in their spare time.

"When we go on road trips," Patricia said, "everyone has their tablets."

Chris' extended family is full of creative people.

"I come from a large family of six sisters and three brothers. All are creative in their own right. I grew up watching my brothers paint and draw," he said.

Chris said his father was a jazz musician who wrote and composed music. He sees a connection between writing music and creating art.

"You have to be able to visualize and that's what I told my kids," Chris said. "You have to compose a work of art in your mind before you put it on paper."

He said his mother was a creative cook and his extended family is comprised of photographers, painters, musicians and composers.

Patricia's family also is creative through playing instruments and dancing.

Chris and Patricia say their children have their support to explore their own talents.

"They have the freedom to try anything," Patricia said. "We've made sure it's available if that's what they want to do."

Leticia Gonzalez, Patricia's 22-year-old daughter, is no longer at home but was involved in arts, crafts and dancing.

Their 18-year-old daughter, Bridget, wants to go to Washburn University to earn an art degree. She creates portraits in pastel chalk, acrylic and pen and ink. She has shown her work at the Statehouse and Lawrence Arts Center.

Michelangelo, 17, creates manga drawings. Manga is a Japanese- style of artwork that is used for comics and print cartoons.

"Michelangelo is the writer in the family," Patricia said.

Christopher, 13, uses pencils to draw figures. He also has made game pieces out of polymer clay. He plays the snare drum and composes music.

Michelangelo and Christopher also create computer animation, complete with drawings, music and sounds. They are involved in the whole project, including writing the story

Logan, 7, designs his own characters for computer games and trading cards. Brandon, 4, fills sketch books and lined notebooks with drawings.

Bridget has nothing but praise for her siblings. She said each sibling is better than the one who came before, because the younger ones combine their own talents with what the older ones have learned.

The family is looking to extend its creativity into the future.

"My brothers and I will work together to make our own company," Bridget said. "My brothers do computer games and movies. It is likely we will do short films together."

Dianne Y. Lawson is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at [email protected]

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