Local artist finds inspiration and friendship in San Miguel, Mexico

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Awakened early morning after an exhaustive sleep by the lilting song (coo-coo-caroo!) of a pair of doves believed to bring good luck to a household and housed in the same casa, my roommates and I jumped out of bed, dressed and headed out the door of our room. Through an enclosed patio laden with brightly colored flowers, up the stairs to the typically Mexican decorated living and dining area of our hostess, Elvia de Berra, the group of twelve of us sat down together at a table of colorful pottery dishes, platters of fresh fruit, homemade granola, fresh yogurt, tostados, jams, rancho eggs, and steaming hot coffee or tea.

The group of inspiring artists from different parts of the United States and Canada, and headed by our mentor and teacher, M. Douglas Walton, of Ruston, Louisiana, anticipated the events of the next two weeks in the quaint colonial city of San Miguel de Allende and its surrounding area.

San Miguel de Allende is located in the mountains of central Mexico, north of Mexico City. Under government architectural protection, the city is frozen in time from its early occupations by the Spanish, French and Indians and its wealthy past. Cobblestone streets radiate out from El Jardin (har-deen) or main plaza, a park-like square where citizens gather to visit and people-watch. The Jardin is dominated by La Parroquia, the parish church of San Miguel Arcangel and the San Rafael Temple. Out from the square are many painterly buildings housing beautiful shops, restaurants, patios, businesses, hotels, galleries, homes. Street vendors are on every corner selling their wares. Massive cathedral-like churches loom above these buildings throughout the city and are known for their ringing bells.

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For many years, the city has attracted artists from every country, as it has Doug Walton, who brought our group on this adventure of a lifetime. Walton, an architect and art teacher since 1972 and who has taught watercolor encounters in over 21 states and ten countries, along with his assistant, Noeline Harris, an artist from Austin, Texas, who owns a home in San Miguel, led us on a journey of sightseeing, eating wonderful food and drawing compositions from early morning until night.

Making ink drawing compositions along the way, we explored churches, private homes, markets, artists’ studios, the botanical gardens and an annual flower market where many varieties of spectacular plants and flowers are brought to sell from all over Mexico. We attended a parade in honor of the birthday of the hero of the Spanish &045; Mexican Revolution, General Ignacio Allende (for whom the city was named), and spectacular fireworks, believed to open up the skies to heaven in order to be closer to loved ones.

We made two side trips away from San Miguel. One into the Sierra Madre mountains where we visited 18th century Missions, and to the town of Xilitla and a place known as Las Pozas (the pools) in the jungles or rainforests of

Mexico. Las Pozas, founded in the 1950s by an eccentric millionaire Englishman, Edward James, consists of

36 extraordinary concrete surrealist structures, some over 80 feet high on a mountainous 80 acres of land, amidst a jungle of pools, waterfalls and exotic plant life such as orchids and bromeliads growing wild,.

Going in another direction, we made a trip to Dolores Hidalgo, the town where Padre Miguel Hidalgo gathered Mexicans together at his church to plan the revolution for independence from Spain. The town is also known for it many shops and warehouses of hand-painted pottery.

Returning to the United States with 30 compositions, newly gained knowledge about art and Mexico, as this was my first visit, luggage loaded with gifts of pottery and crafts of the locale and over 500 photographs, I find myself already planning for my next visit to this extraordinary city.