Yesterday I was in a Mexican store helping someone to choose tiles for the sink and bathroom of a new casita that is just coming into being. I have always been drawn to Mexican art because the images tell stories, and many of those stories revolve around images in Nature – usually stylized. The tiles, for example portray flowers, birds, butterflies, and fish in brilliant colors. The child in me loves to see these stories. Artists who work with animal images in a respectful way honoring the spirit of the animal portrayed (either natural or stylized – cartoons revolt me) allows me to bridge the world from animals to people.
The mandala is also frequently present as a motif in these tiles. The mandala is a universal symbol for wholeness and containment, and is a particularly common element in most Mexican folk art. Some might add that the circular designs also represent the ‘self.’ Personally, I perceive mandalas as both symbolic and a concrete manifestation of Earth and a mysterious Wholeness that is intrinsic to the entire Universe.
Mexican art moves me. The expressive folk images, and the use of natural objects like gourds to create complex designs give me a sense of being at home in the world of people. Nature has been my Muse since I was a child. As a life long naturalist I am deeply drawn to the world of animals, I think in part because aside from my brother, animals were my first real friends.
For much of my adult life I have reflected upon this complex attraction of mine. I have both Italian, and Indigenous roots as part of my heritage. I also grew up as the daughter of an Anglian artist whose love of classical and impressionistic art was deeply woven in to my life.
Folk art only came to the forefront when I reached adulthood and began to develop into a self -directed woman – something that didn’t happen until my children were grown. First it was Native American fetishes, especially bears that drew me in along with Mexican embroidered clothing.
The child in me emerged for the first time in my life and I “made up” a healing Bear Circle inside which bears and other fetishes were moved around by whim or prayer (it turned out that the Lakota Sioux as well as other Native tribes use bear circles for healing, but I didn’t know that then). I also developed a fascination for wild bears that the naturalist in me couldn’t make sense of since there were none where I lived on the coast.
In my forties I began to dream images of ancient goddess figures that I later drew and sculpted in clay. I also discovered that the Great Bear was probably the most ancient goddess figure in the Northern Hemisphere. Around the same period I attended a Jungian conference held in Assisi Italy where I had a mystical ongoing experience with Mary and Mary Magdalene that lasted almost a week. And when my life fell apart for the second time, a year spent in the desert helped heal me enough to go on.
It was in Arizona that I discovered Guadalupe, the unofficial saint of Mexico. Many folks are familiar with her story. Guadalupe is a Mexican Indian goddess that appeared to an Indian peasant asking him to convey to the Bishop that a chapel be built on a hill outside Mexico City. To “prove” to the Bishop that she was “real” Guadalupe presented the Indian with red Castilian roses to take to him (that cascaded out of her robe when she opened it) … It is said that when the chapel was built in her honor, a healing spring bubbled out of the Earth. It is rarely mentioned that Guadalupe’s Hill was also the place where the ancient Indigenous Earth Goddess Tonzantin resided. Goddesses have a way of appearing in a multitude of guises, each con specific to a particular time, place, and need.
After discovering statues of the Black Madonna or Guadalupe behind the country churches in the outskirts of Tucson (all had candles lit all around them), I bought a Mexican carving of Guadalupe on the streets of downtown Tucson. This image of an Indigenous goddess was the very first of my personal belongings that found a place in my log cabin, my second home, where she resides to this day.
Falling in love with Guadalupe was followed by a compulsion to visit Mexico (which to this day has never been realized because I never had the money to make this pilgrimage).
However, one by one, I bought pieces of other Mexican art. Huichol Indigenous string art adorns almost every corner of my present home. Deer, serpents, mushrooms, and other animals and plants tell cultural stories through string and intricate beadwork in vibrant otherworldly colors. Mexican Talavera pottery appeals to me because each artist is telling his or her version of a story that is also grounded in images in Nature as already mentioned. Over time when I could afford it, I acquired a Mexican Talavera frog, and later when I built my small log cabin I bought a few precious Talavera dishes and two more frogs and a lizard…
But let me return to Guadalupe. When I came to Abiquiu, New Mexico two years ago I was stunned to see so many images of Guadalupe that were white. At least in Tucson, She was portrayed as the Indian goddess she was. Eventually it occurred to me that Spanish influences and the Catholic Church (who to this day has not canonized this “saint”) were both responsible for her whitening.
For two years I have been looking for an image of Guadalupe to be with me here in Abiquiu and yesterday I found her in the tile store!
This Guadalupe is cut out of tin, a simple but profound image, the metal has been shaped to resemble the traditional Mexican image of Guadalupe. However, this image – a starry cloak with rays of light outline a figure without a face and body that for me allows Guadalupe to become the frame to hold any image that is sacred to me, one of which happens to be the Bear. There is even a small pocket in which a bear fetish could be placed at the bottom of the piece. The only addition inside the cloak is a pair of copper hands held in prayer.
Last night, I couldn’t stop gazing at her. The tin shimmers in reflected light. Oh, I made the right choice by buying her! What I love the most is her universality. This goddess makes room for all other sacred images female or male, human and non – human…
This morning I was given a hand written note by the man I was with yesterday that acknowledged the importance of this figure for me and hoped that this “Lady of Guadalupe” would find a Nicho nearby.
I hoped so too.