This exceptional figure painting by the well-known El Paso artist Manuel Acosta records a beloved, colorful activity that once was a regular sight beneath the old Stanton Street International Bridge at the border crossing between El Paso and Juarez. Penny catchers were youth carrying decorated cardboard cones on poles who called out from the Rio Grande below, “A penny please, mister! Por favor, señora!” Acosta recalled, “When the announcement came that the old bridge would be demolished for the erection of the new bridge…I thought, this is the last time we’ll see a penny catcher.” The old “bridge was flat, it was ground level.” He joked about the new bridge, “It is arched…so high up that you couldn’t see the kids…They shout their lungs out and you can’t hear them. If you tossed a coin, it hits them on the head, conks them out for two weeks! So [penny catching became] a losing business.” My “idea was to paint the atmosphere right there by the bridge—the water and the greenery that grows along the bridge…It’s always muddy and sandy.” And I think I got that feeling in the portrait. The model was a neighbor who lived near the artist, Francisco Hernández. The first version of this painting was purchased by a Juarez physician. This second version has belonged to a local family for over 50 years. The framed painting measures approximately 54-1/2 inches tall, 34-1/2 inches wide and 3/4 inches deep. The image opening measures approximately 49-1/2 inches tall and 29-1/4 inches wide. The painting is loosely held into the frame and the painting could benefit from being cleaned and reframed. Other than the above, this Manuel Acosta painting is in very good condition.
Manuel Acosta was born in 1921 in Villa Aldama, Chihuahua, and grew up in El Paso after his family moved there in 1924. A naturalized U.S. citizen, he served in the Air Force in World War II, he studied at the College of Mines in El Paso, at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. His artistic training was encouraged under the regional artists Urbici Soler and Peter Hurd. He became a recognized artist in the 1950s, with a number of corporate commissions for murals. His first solo exhibition was held at the Chase Gallery in New York City in 1962. Best known for his depictions of the people and scenes of the El Paso area, his work is in important collections in the US and Mexico. He died in El Paso in 1989.
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