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Getting in the flow: Eduardo Cruz brings intricate imagery to Wild Arts Festival

The self-taught McMinnville pyrographer and etcher says creating art is integral to his life. “When it comes to doing what I’m passionate about, it’s close to meditation.”

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Eduardo Cruz of McMinnville uses pyrography, or wood burning, to create the image of an owl. Cruz will offer his avian-themed and other pieces at the Wild Arts Festival this weekend in Portland. Photo courtesy: Eduardo Cruz
Eduardo Cruz of McMinnville uses pyrography, or wood burning, to create the image of an owl. Cruz will offer his avian-themed and other pieces at the Wild Arts Festival this weekend in Portland. Photo courtesy: Eduardo Cruz

Eduardo Cruz splits his waking hours between a day job and art, and I imagine that — like many talented artists who work long hours in seemingly unaesthetic places — to see him engaged in one, it might not occur to you that he does the other.

By day, he is a roofer in the Portland area. But even after the commute home to McMinnville, Cruz has the drive and passion to make art.

“People ask, ‘What is your inspiration?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t need inspiration!’” For Cruz, creating intricate imagery on wood and metal is “just something that I naturally do, like breathing and thinking.

“For me, it’s so natural that when I’m doing it, it’s more like a state of mind,” he continued. “It’s called the ‘flow.’ I started calling it ‘the flow’ without even knowing that’s actually a term some psychologists are starting to use. Somehow I feel like this energy just flows through me and I have to do something with it.”

Come this weekend, Portlanders will have a chance to see what he does with it. Cruz is among 50 artists invited to participate in the 42nd annual Portland Audubon Wild Arts Festival, Saturday and Sunday in Portland State University’s Viking Pavilion.

He will bring the wood and metal etchings he learned to do entirely on his own, working at his kitchen table. He also uses wood-burning and etching techniques to apply the finish to Indigenous masks handcrafted by an artist friend in Mexico. 

That’s only one piece of a rich artistic life. For seven years, he and his wife, Maria Cortes Duran, have performed in the dance group Huehca Omeyocan. In appearances around the Willamette Valley and along the Oregon Coast, she dances and he’s on drums. At last year’s McMinnville Short Film Festival, they appeared in Azteca Dance, directed by Karla Contreras. The film blazes with energy and color and features the couple talking about how art is a means of sharing their Anáhuac culture.

Cruz says his family remembers him drawing from the time he could hold a pen. "I grew up just drawing with black ink and pens," he says, "so I developed this intricate style with a pen.”
Cruz says his family remembers him drawing from the time he could hold a pen. “I grew up just drawing with black ink and pens,” he says, “so I developed this intricate style with a pen.”

“We have a lot of passion when it comes to sharing our culture, whether it’s through drumming, dancing, or my artwork, or just cultural displays with the artifacts we have,” he said. “We’re just grateful to share that with our communities.”

Cruz found his way into art like a lot of people do: as a kid with a pencil. He grew up in Mexico, where his family grappled with alcohol and poverty. “We were focused on trying to make it every day.”

Cruz’s family tells him he was drawing from the time he was able to hold a pencil. “I remember going to school, and I was too distracted drawing instead of paying attention to the teacher,” he said. “That got me in trouble sometimes, but I didn’t stop. It wasn’t easy for us in Mexico. I didn’t have access to a lot of resources. I grew up just drawing with black ink and pens, so I developed this intricate style with a pen.”

Viewers of his etchings often comment on the exquisitely detailed line work with which he renders wildlife, fauna, and mythological figures, he said, and offer praise for what they presume is an infinite well of patience.

But that’s not what’s going on. More so than any artist I’ve interviewed in the past few years, Cruz returns to the idea of the flow state from which the best art emerges. “I’m not the most patient guy in the world,” he said. “But when it comes to doing what I’m passionate about, it’s close to meditation.

“I just can’t help it, I have to do something every day,” he said. “Even if I get back home after a long day and I’m too tired, I still feel that necessity.”

David Bates is an award-winning Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and is currently a freelance writer whose clients have included the McMinnville News-RegisterOregon Wine Press, and Indulge, a food-oriented publication. He has a B.S. degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and a long history of involvement in the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players of Oregon and other theaters in Oregon.

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