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Rachel Young and Arturo Villaseñor: Tributes to healing, place, and purpose

A dual exhibition at Multnomah Arts Center employs intricate beadwork and Aztec symbolism to connect with contemporary life.


Rachel Young, “Metamorphosis.” Image courtesy Multnomah Arts Center.

At Southwest Portland’s Multnomah Arts Center, artists Rachel Young and Arturo Villaseñor are presenting a lush mix of beadwork, paintings, and sculpture. Their combined exhibit, on display through March 25, invites visitors to contemplate and appreciate the reality and beauty of being human.

Young’s intricate mosaic beadwork paintings are made by pressing seed beads into wax, an ancient style from the Huichol tradition of northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Her art is luxuriously detailed, with each piece containing thousands, if not tens of thousands, of beads.         

One of her talents is creating wallpaper patterns and soft color gradients with these minuscule beads, a skill that stands out in pieces such as Moonlight Magnolias and Crow on a Wire. Her masterful shading even manages to create smooth transitions from matte beads to metallic ones, so each piece has a unique glow and sparkle. 

But most of the pieces incorporate other media, too, such as wire and tiny trinkets. Additionally, viewers might be surprised by the three-dimensional texture in each painting, a quality that adds an earthy feel to her work. Take Messenger, for instance, a long and narrow piece depicting an owl standing in a puffy papery tree under the moon. The owl is made of beads and rhinestones, with its wings outlined in copper wire. The surrounding night sky, glowing downward from the moonlight, is accented with tiny metal stars, rhinestones, and golden art deco-style mirrors. 

Rachel Young, “Moonlight Magnolias.” Image courtesy Multnomah Arts Center.
Rachel Young, “City Bird.” Image courtesy Multnomah Arts Center.

Young also has several smaller pieces available. Homage is a lighthearted nod to Magritte. Lucky Charms is a neat mandala of good-luck trinkets, including threepence and an all-seeing eye in the center. Another visual treat that would be perfect for any bird lover is Icy Morning. The small 8.5 x 8.5 inch piece depicts two adorable roundish birds surrounded by a riot of plump pink berries and shiny leaves.  

A frequently recurring theme of hearts (real ones, replete with arteries, valves, and all) stands out in pieces such as Mementos. These hearts, along with the bones and skulls that show up in Young’s work, speak to her career as a registered nurse. However, the big butterflies that seem to have bloomed from a giant heart in Metamorphosis hint at a more personal journey. Perhaps it’s about the journey of healing from trauma that she mentions in her artist’s statement. 

To me, Rachel Young’s work seems to whisper the secrets of a loving and mystical universe. At first, I was struck by the impeccable detail and planning that must go into her pieces. But in the end, I was left with feelings of warmth and serenity. As I read her artist’s statement on the way out, I recognized some of my own impressions from her collection: grace, healing, resilience, and triumph. 


Arturo Villaseñor, “Quetzalcóatl.” Image courtesy Multnomah Arts Center.

ARTURO VILLASEÑOR is a multifaceted artist who is not only a painter but also a sculptor, graphic designer, photographer, muralist, and poet. His work is inspired in part by his Latino heritage and upbringing in Mexico City, although he’s lived in Oregon for 22 years now. According to his artist’s statement, his aim is “to open a window to the beauty and diversity of my culture.” 

You can almost hear the silence of the desert in Villaseñor’s new painting San Gregorio, in which a rocky desert landscape and plant silhouettes are set against a huge, bold blue sky. These bold blues are echoed in Pax, a more geometric painting that looks like a bird in flight immortalized in stained glass. I fell into this painting a little, appreciating how some of the shapes appeared as if he’d taken a piece of the sky itself and made it part of the mosaic. 

Arturo Villaseñor, “Che.” Image courtesy Multnomah Arts Center.
Arturo Villaseñor, “Libertas.” Image courtesy Multnomah Arts Center.

This tiled effect takes a different angle in Quetzalcóatl, toma II. This tribute to one of the most important gods in the Aztec pantheon looks as if it could have been taken right from the side of an ancient Aztec (or Mexica) temple. It captures the “feathered serpent” in what appears to be jade green and metallic gold stones. I wondered how Villaseñor could have achieved such a real-life marble texture with acrylic paints, complete with natural-looking cracks and crevices in the rocks. It could be that this ability stems from his time working on historic building restorations in Mexico City. 

Finally, Arturo’s work blends the modern and the ancient in a walled tribute to iconic figures of Aztec and North American history. Frida Kahlo and Che Guevara take their place among Aztec symbols such as Tláloc (the god of rain and fertility), the butterfly (Papalotl), and the hummingbird (Huitzilopochtli). There is a feeling of the balance of creative forces, life and death, and the cycles of nature in this tiled collection. 

In the center of this collection, the face of the Statue of Liberty seems to hint that although the artist is rooted here right now, the deep roots of his culture will always be woven into the fiber of his being. Below this sits the symbol for Hunab Ku (“The One God” in Mayan mythology, possibly stemming from Aztec mythology), which I interpreted as a reminder that the one divine force is always present with us in life. 

This enchanting and meaningful art collection will be at Multnomah Arts Center’s gallery through March 25, 2023. The center is at 7688 SW Capitol Highway, Portland, and is open daily. Admission is free.  

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Freya Drake is a freelance writer, poet, and musician based in Portland. She specializes in writing about the performing arts, all things culinary, and personal essays. In her free time, she teaches Qigong and writes and performs music locally.


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