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Norma Espinoza-Aguilar and her dog, Diego

Norma Espinoza-Aguilar and her dog, Diego

Norma Espinoza-Aguilar and her dog, Diego

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Norma Espinoza-Aguilar, a newly appointed Hall Advisor at Johnson State College, traveled all the way from San Francisco, California, to live amid the snowy mountains of Johnson, Vermont. Espinoza-Aguilar, who lives on campus with her roommate and small Shih Tzu dog, Diego, is a graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts program at JSC, and her work is centered around metalsmithing. Basement Medicine sat down with Espinoza-Aguilar and Deigo in her office in Arthur’s Hall to learn more about her passion for metalworking and jewelry making, why she chose to come to Vermont, and about some of the adventures she and Deigo have been on.

Where are you and your family from?

I am originally from California. I have lived in Michigan the last 12 years to do my undergraduate, went home for a year, and then moved out here. I am from the Los Angeles area. My mom lives on the outside of Los Angeles, so the suburbs. My father was born in Torre’on, Mexico, and my mother was born in Washington but raised in South Texas.

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

I’ve done many crazy things in my life, but my recent one was that I went on an eight week road trip. It was just me and my dog Diego with no real schedule. I went from California to Vermont and back. I had a few places along the way that I wanted to see and visit. We were on our own time and just enjoyed the road. It was one of the best trips and I hope that I can do it again one day.

What brings you to Vermont?

I was looking for a graduate school. At the time I had several different schools that I wanted to apply to and was interested in. But it just so happens to be that when I was applying, we got a new president… and I did not want to go to a red state, and it just so happens that the other two schools that I was interested in going to were in red states. Because I am of Hispanic descent and I am a pretty strong woman, I didn’t want to get myself into trouble or get myself hurt because of who I am.

What is your role here at JSC?

I am the hall adviser for Arthur Hall and Martinetti Hall. I am also in the Master of Fine Arts program as a graduate candidate and I am getting my MFA in studio art and my emphasis is jewelry making and metalsmithing. I enjoy working with the metal. So far my biggest enjoyment has been working with the students. I was able to be a teacher’s assistant for a metalsmithing class, Jewelry 1, and I have also given my time to help run a lab once a week for two hours where students can come in who need any help, I am there to help them. It also gave me an opportunity to get back into the studio, because it had been over a year since I had worked in the studio.

What kind of art do you make through your metalsmithing?

I make one-of-a kind handmade jewelry and work with copper and silver. I work with a variety of different cabochons but my favorite cabochons to work with is labradorite and moonstone. The work I enjoy the most are pieces that have to do with life experiences. I find them to be very powering and they allow me to process and share my experiences through my work.

What do you feel are the major differences between Vermont and California?

I am no longer interested in living in California because it’s pretty crazy and wild. We got freeways that are like five lanes, people are always in a hurry, and people are pretty rude. What I like about Vermont is that it is a beautiful place, absolutely stunningly beautiful. But the other thing I like about it is that everyone is really friendly. I try and acknowledge everybody in my path as I’m walking from building to building, I try to say hello or good morning. I have been working really hard to make that connection with .students on campus. What I like so much about Vermont is also where we’re at which I call “up on the hill” above Johnson, which is a very small town. So sometimes I’ll catch myself overlooking the mountains behind Martinetti and the little town below and I just love that atmosphere. I think what I like about it so much is that it’s a small community and everyone knows everyone.

Describe yourself in five words.

Giving, compassionate, strong, empathetic, and caring.

Tell me about your dog, Diego.

Diego is a rescue. He came from a lady who lost control of breeding and had 320 dogs. Diego was one of five dogs in a crate in unimaginable conditions. The crates were never cleaned out and there was a lot of feces, they were living in it. He has a lot of anxiety issues. He doesn’t like to be left alone, but he is very loving. People came and helped disperse the dogs so he was one of 40 that went to one of the shelters. I wanted a girl and I was number 25 in line, so I had to choose from the “leftovers,” and he was probably one of about 10 who were left over. He was the biggest and looked like the bossiest one in the group. We brought him in and licked me and it was from there on. His original name he has been named at the shelter was Baxter, but I wanted to name him after a Hispanic artist, so he’s actually named after Diego Rivera.

If Diego could talk, what would his personality be?

He’d be goofy. I see him as kind of laid back, hippyish type of person. Very friendly and goofy.

Did you grow up learning both Spanish and English?

My parents spoke Spanish in the house a lot to each other, but when they spoke to me and my siblings it was always in English. All of us in the house spoke English and Spanish was kind of a second language. Growing up we weren’t as fluent as a typical Mexican family where the first language is Spanish because English is our primary language. I normally like to speak it, but growing up I was teased a lot, so I get a little tongue twisted. I have to stop and think about what I have to say, and sometimes I don’t get the words right, but I can communicate well enough to get out of a jam. My mother will sometimes start speaking to me in Spanish for five minutes and then drop into English and then drop back into Spanish.

What did you want to be when you were little?

A teacher, I always wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a fourth or fifth grade teacher and the idea was if I could make a difference in one child’s life, that’s a huge accomplishment even if it’s one child. But as I got older, and I was working full time, and I was a single parent, and I was going to school part time two nights a week, and had a mortgage payment to pay, I couldn’t give up working. It took me a very long time. I went to school for eleven years, every single semester and sometimes summers. Part of my problem was I changed my major from being an elementary school teacher to Spanish language teacher, and then took a metals class and was like, “This is it, this is what I want to do.” So that’s how I ended up in this program. It’s going to give me an opportunity to still work with students.

What is one of the coolest location you’ve visited before?

I was driving through Arkansas because I wanted to go rock hunting for quartz. Diego and I went hunting for quartz and that was an experience all in its own. I was in knee-deep clay and he was just like, “What the hell are we doing here?” but it was too hot to leave him in the car so he had to go with me up the mountain. There were a lot of people there and it had just rained so the soil, which looked like red clay, was wet and that’s the best time to go quartz hunting because you can really get in there. The experience is really cool.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

I used to always say when I grow up I want to be like Louise Bourgeois. But who has pushed me to where I am at today is President Collins. I’ve known her for a while. I was a former student of hers in high school. She has always believed in me when I wanted to give up, she has always had faith that I would make it, that I would graduate. And any thoughts that I had of grad school were never there, I was just going to complete my undergraduate. She’s just always believed in me and always been a positive role model in my life and has always uplifted me and never doubted anything I could do.

What is your favorite piece of art you’ve made?

I have several pieces. One of my favorites is a non-metal. It is a ceramic bust of a young lady that I know. On the inside I created a collage of her life. From being born as an addicted, premature child, to sexual abuse from her father, from horrible things that were done to her from him and his friends, to teenage pregnancy, to getting an education, to depression and having to commit herself, to coming out of that and being successful in life. The outside of the bust is a really neutral color, but the inside of the bust has this whole collage of her life in it. There are pieces of magazine I cut out and made words and pictures with. It’s very powerful.

Where do you see your life going after earning your BFA?

I want to teach at the college level. I’m hoping I’ll get picked up somewhere and teach a couple days a week. Work. My art. A simple life. I’d be happy with that.

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