Long before there were cowboys in the West, there were Indians, and after a decade and a half of effort, some of Southern Arizona’s indigenous ancestors are receiving public recognition by way of a new sculpture called La Primera Vista (First Sight).
The large bronze sculpture, originally sketched by the late Tohono O’odham artist Leonard Chana, recognizes the region’s original inhabitants. It shows a Native woman holding a basket of squash, beans, and melons, a child with a corn cob, and a man holding a bow—all looking toward the Santa Cruz River and reflecting on the 1692 appearance of a Franciscan monk, likely the first European to arrive in Tucson (then known locally as Chuk Son or “the spring at the base of black mountain.”)
The Arizona Daily Star wrote that: “Their faces exhibit both amazement and apprehension at the arrival of strangers who would alter their lives and the land.”
The creative work is displayed adjacent to the original Spanish convent that marks Tucson’s colonial birthplace at South Mission and Grande roads. The statue and its sighting are both appropriate, according to Greg Hart, one of the project instigators who has been working 15 years to see the plan to fruition. “We’re gratified its finally happening, a long overdue creation that will fill a hole in our community.”
Long-time muralist Luis Gustavo Mena, known for his murals that focus on cultural statements, created the work using Tohono O’odham models to ensure accuracy. Allowing for some artistic license, “The sculptor consulted with leaders of the Tohono Nation San Xavier District in trying to be as authentic as possible,” said Raul Ramirez of Los Descendientes del Presidio. The group assisted in fund raising for the project, although three quarters of the $80,000 cost came from the Regional Transportation Authority that allocates funds for public art projects.
Sponsors say they hope to find additional funding to add benches and lighting to make the space more visitor-friendly. Consideration is also being given to the creation of an annual fall festival at the statue to celebrate Tucson’s birthplace and its original inhabitants.