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Judith F. Baca: 1946—: Muralist, Visual Artist, Educator

Raised In A Female Household

Judith Francisca Baca, a second-generation Chicana, was born in south central Los Angeles on September 20, 1946. As a young child, Baca was raised in a female-dominated household that included her mother, Ortensia Baca, her grandmother, and two aunts. Baca's grandmother raised her, while her mother worked in a tire factory to support the family. Baca's father, Valentino Marcel, was not a part of her life. Baca never knew her musician father, but has stated in interviews that her childhood was quite happily spent in the women-only household. One of Baca's aunts had developmental problems, and her mental age of five meant that Baca had a built-in playmate at home.

When Baca was six years old, her mother married Clarence Ferrari, and the family moved from their Huntington Park neighborhood to Pacoima, California. The change was a dramatic one for Baca, whose grandmother and aunts remained behind in their south central Los Angeles home. Although the new town was only about twenty miles north of Los Angeles, it was a new and completely different world for Baca. In Pacoima, Baca entered a school where the primary language was English. Baca's earlier childhood had been in a Spanish-speaking household, and now she struggled in school. Ironically, it was the struggle with language that led to Baca's interest in art. Because of the language problems, Baca's teacher permitted the young girl to sit at a corner desk and paint, while the other students continued with their studies.

In spite of her initial language problems, Baca quickly mastered English, and in 1964 she graduated from Bishop Alemany High School, a Catholic school in Mission Hills, California. Baca married at age 19, but within six years the marriage ended, and she returned to Bishop Alemany to teach, after having received a bachelor's degree from California State University at Northridge in 1969. This first teaching job served as a predictor for how Baca would connect art and community. Soon after she began teaching, Baca enticed a number of ethnically diverse students to paint a mural at the school, thus anticipating the ways in which she would eventually interconnect art and social action.

At a Glance . . .

Born September 20, 1946 in Los Angeles, CA; divorced. Education: California State University at Northridge, B.A., art, 1969; California State University at Northridge, M.A., art.

Career: Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), founder, 1976; University of California, professor of Fine Arts, 1980–; UCLA's Cesar Chavez Center, vice chair, 1996–; UCLA, professor of art for world arts and cultures, 1996–.

This first teaching job did not last long, however. Shortly after beginning her new job, Baca became involved in public protests against the Vietnam War. An administrative change at Alemany High School was less tolerant of these protests, and eventually Baca was fired, as were ten nuns and seven other lay teachers. Baca had thought that she would be unable to earn a living as an artist, and so she had gone into education to provide a means of support for herself and her art. Although initially the loss of her job was traumatic, in a sense, the loss of this first position opened new doors for Baca. Rather than rely on teaching as a career, she began to focus on her art.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Miguel Angel Asturias: 1899-1974: Writer to Don Berrysmith Biography - Grew up in the Pacific NorthwestJudith F. Baca: 1946—: Muralist, Visual Artist, Educator Biography - Raised In A Female Household, Began Working With Underprivileged Children, Launched Great Wall Project, World Wall Established In Jerusalem