Tuesday, August 23, 2022


When Bob Russell was a young boy in the 1940s growing up on a dryland farm in eastern Colorado, middle child in a family of six (four kids), the Sunday issue of the Denver Post newspaper was one of the family’s highly anticipated reading delights. His mother, Frances, read the “funny papers” out loud, each and every comic in the paper. She loved reading aloud, acting out the parts, speaking with various appropriate dialects, a highly entertaining woman, was Frances. At that time the family followed the happenings of “Li’l Abner”, “Gordo”, “Mutt and Jeff”, “Gasoline Alley”, “Prince Valiant” and others. Bob still reads Prince Valiant every Sunday without fail, one of the few cartoons that has lasted these eighty years. This happy, fun, family event each Sunday morning instilled in Bob a life-long love of the funny papers. Cartoons became a favorite art form, a passion.


The Pierce Grain Elevator in Weld County gave away calendars each year to its local customers and in the mid 1940s those calendars featured the art of Argentinian artist Florencio Molina Campos and his gauchos. Gauchos are the South American version of our cowboys. Bob Russell came to love the lively action of those gauchos with their “funny looking horses”. He spent hours studying the paintings, drawing the characters on paper, always wondering what the Spanish captions meant, just a few words beneath each painting.


Fast forward to the year 2000 when our son, Patrick, introduced us to his fiancé, Alejandra, from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although her English language skills were limited at that time and our Spanish language skills non-existent, Bob felt an immediate kinship with Alejandra because of his interest in the gauchos on the Argentine pampas. With Patrick translating each conversation, Bob explained to Ale his fascination with the gaucho culture which included their knives, horses, clothing, and love of beef! He even had some Campos prints purchased from the internet just a year before we met her.



Alejandra with her Uncle Carlos who was closely connected to the gaucho culture. On one of her visits back to Buenos Aires she brought back a photo of her Tio Carlos wearing his traditional clothing with Ale posed beside him.


And she and Patrick brought Bob two wonderful books with full color photographs of paintings, “Martin Fierro” by Jose Hernandez and “Gauchos Argentinos” by Aldo Sessa, along with Argentine made knives, bolo, and leather goods. I know if they had brought him bombachas he would be wearing those!





Patrick and Alejandra tried to translate the captions or titles of the Campos paintings but it was not easy. The artist used idioms specific to the gaucho life on the pampas so translating them to some English form we could understand proved about as successful as translating 1880 cowboy terms like “get along little dogies” to a tourist from Japan.


We were surprised to learn from Alejandra that not everyone in Argentina liked Molina Compos’s paintings. Some were offended by his caricatures, thought he was making fun of the people in his paintings, that he made them look ugly, not beautiful. One amazing thing I learned about him is that he painted all those scenes from memory, years after living out on the pampas, later in a studio he painted what he saw in his mind’s eye.



When Patrick and Alejandra’s son, Lucas, was born we were privileged to spend a lot of time with him, watched his personality emerge, and saw a couple of traits that made us smile for they were so gaucho-like. We had horses then, and one day two-year-old Lucas walked out to the pasture with his grandpa, climbed up on the bottom rung of the fence and started shouting at the horses, pumping his little right fist at them as he exerted his command. That was not something he learned from Grandpa.That was pure Lucas. And he loves knives, has always loved knives. Not bicycles, not airplanes, not Hot Wheels, but knives, always knives. A gaucho's knife is his main tool, one of his only tools, used for everything from eating his meal to chopping firewood, to butchering beeves. (Note: this photo of Lucas and his grandpa out feeding the horses was taken when Lu was a bit older. I didn't capture that moment when he was only 2.)


We’ve come full circle with this fascination for Argentine gaucho culture, a beautiful thing. This fall Patrick and Alejandra hosted their annual Asado, a traditional Argentine BBQ, at our place, out back, beneath the old cottonwood trees. After an afternoon of cooking and dining on traditional foods, late at night there is music, dancing, laughter, even a few tears. The guitars, and this year a saxophone, set the mood with their lively music tinged with sadness. The fire throws shadows and warm colors across the dancers and musicians, and if I squint my eyes a little I am a part of an authentic South American celebration of life and love. Thank you, Alejandra, for bringing this beauty from your country into our lives and hearts.