NOW, that was an opening.

The Fondo del Sol gallery at 2112 R St. NW celebrated its new exhibit of three Tejano (or Texan) artists this week with a band, Pearl beer, Texas food, videotapes and a hilarious, wall-stretching crowd that just wouldn't go home.

A good section of Washington's growing Hispano-American community dropped in, including Rep. E. (Kika) de la Garza of Texas, National Endowment for the Arts people, Mario Castillo of the D.C. Commission on the Arts, Mexican diplomats and Guadalupe Saavedra, whose feature-length PBS film, "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez," will be released this September to theaters in 40 cities.

"The presence of artists . . . restores us," said de la Garza, a Democrat whose district covers an area south of San Antonio where many Spanish-speaking Texans live, among them descendants of the state's earliest settlers. He greeted friends among Los Nortenos, the musicians in fedoras and red kerchiefs whose bull fiddle is painted red, white and green. Their leader, Cesario Majares, works at the Mexican Embassy.

The artists in the show are Luis Jimenez, a sculptor who works in polyester and resin and who paints robust scenes of Chicano life in the Rio Grande valley; Pedro Lujan, a wood sculptor now working in New York on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and Cesar Martinez, a painter of grave, dark portraits that capture the smoldering energy of their unsmiling subjects.

The party was supposed to end at 8, but the place was packed until 10 with people speaking Spanish, eating burritos, refried beans, guacamole and chicharones, or fried pork rind, and bouncing to the music.

Some of the songs sounded like German polkas, with now and then an Irish lilt, and this was not surprising, because a lot of German and Irish families moved to Texas with the first wave of settlers brought by Moses Austin in 1821. A second wave came from Mexico a few years later to help fight off the dictator Santa Anna.

"These are some of the original Texans," said Marc Zuver, program director of the gallery and for years a promoter of Chicano arts in Washington. "Some families have been established there since the 1600s."

Lillian Fernandez, head of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus here, and Irvine MacManus, the ranking Hispano at NEA, were there, as were many members of Washington's Hispanic arts community.

Starting tomorrow at 1 p.m., and every Saturday through May 7, films and videotapes of this venerable American culture will be shown at the gallery. They include the Saavedra film and "Chulas Fronteras" by Les Blank, depicting the lives of Hispanic musicians of South Texas, plus Lujan's "Viaje a Caballo," a humorous saga of a horseback ride down the Rio Grande valley.

The most remarkable thing of all about the opening party was that it was not the standard Washington freebie, for the gallery is nonprofit. By closing time the kitty was full of dollar bills--and one Guatemalan quetzal.