Maggie Tello Case

Extracurricular: UCR analyst’s art travels to Romania

A passion for textile art took her work abroad

May 29, 2024
Author: J.D. Mathes
May 29, 2024

Maggie Tello Case  thought she was being phished when she received an email in January from curator Claire D’Alba representing the Art in Embassies program at the United States Department of State. D’Alba was requesting Tello Case, a senior contracts and grants analyst in UCR’s College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences, lend some of her artwork for display in U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec’s residence in Bucharest, Romania

“I thought it would be hard to spoof a government email but decided to write the embassy. I got a response back confirming this was a legitimate request. The ambassador was interested in bringing Chicano art to Bucharest. She’d love to have some of my work,” Tello Case said. “I was floored! I was like, ‘is this for real?’”

Puzzled at how a U.S. ambassador knew of her work, Tello Case investigated and found out Ambassador Kavalec was from the Riverside area and had probably visited The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum.  

As one enters The Cheech, on each side of the entrance there is a revolving community exhibition space. For its inaugural exhibition, Cheech curator Cosmé Cordova displayed Tello Case’s  artwork. 

Maggie Tello Case at her home in Riverside on May 23, 2024 with her textile collage art. (UCR/Stan Lim)

Tello Case considers her medium textile collage. From an early age she sewed with her mother and, as she got older, she started hand-making dolls and stuffed owls to sell at the 2010 Riverside Art Walk.

Around that time, Cosmé Cordova, owner of Division 9 Gallery, asked Tello Case to meet. “So I took all my dolls in a trash bag and went to the gallery. He liked them and let me do pop-up shows in the gallery,” Tello-Case said. 

In 2011, Cordova offered Tello Case a spot in a group show featuring six other textile artists. The show, “Seven Stitches,” would be her first gallery appearance. At first, she was nervous.

“I thought of what I did as ‘arts and crafts,’ not truly art. Cosmé really encouraged me. He suggested I make pieces that could be hung up. He mentored me and gave me confidence,” Tello Case said.

A collection of textile collage art by Maggie Tello Case at her home in Riverside on May 23, 2024. (UCR/Stan Lim)

Tello Case turned from making dolls to deeply personal and emotionally resonate wall hangings. These wall hangings ring of home and memories and imply a tradition of passed-along skills.

“I called it ‘Siluetas de mi Niñez,’ silhouettes of my childhood. My father is a competitive silhouette shooter. I grew up going to his matches, watching him shoot at metallic silhouettes of animals; chickens, pigs, turkeys, and rams. It inspired me to do silhouettes of meaningful animals from my childhood like my cats, my dad’s hunting dog, owls.” Tello Case said.

In 2013, she was offered her first solo show at Division 9. She rose to the challenge and filled the gallery with her textile collages. The show, “Stories from my Inner Childhood,” was well received by the art community. 

Tello Case has continued to develop as an artist and has shown work at the Riverside Art Museum, the Norco College Art Gallery, and Riverside Arts Council’s Artscape exhibitions in the county buildings downtown. She is also part of the group of artists who created the RISE mosaic mural displayed on Market Street, downtown.

An art piece by Maggie Tello Case called 'Phillip Marie Pickles', a found object mosaic, hangs at her home in Riverside. (UCR/Stan Lim)

Now two of her collages will hang in the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest for the next three to four years and will be published in an exhibition catalog. 

“I was honored to be asked to participate in the program,” Tello-Case said. “I hope I can make it to Romania to see my art there.”

Tello Case has been with UCR for over a decade supporting CNAS faculty members in administering gift, contract, and grant funds. She was named a research administrator in fall 2021 for the EMN Administration, a unit supporting the departments of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology; Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology; the Natural Reserves; and the Stem Cell Center.   

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