Chilchota, Mexico

July 19, 2010

Every summer Andres Janacua and Julie Spielman take a group of artists to a tiny town in rural Mexico called Chilchota.

Andy’s family is from here and they know just about everyone in town.

Andy and Julie have turned his mom’s house into kind of an artists residence and gallery;

Galería Perdida – the lost gallery

Chilchota is in the state of Michoacán, and is the governmental seat of a string of tiny towns called La Cañada de los Once Pueblos – the Gorge of the Eleven Towns.

It is a town of 7,000 and every inch of land seems tended, every house seems meticulously cared for.

Andy and Julie planned the trip to coincide with the annual festival of the patron saint. There were parades and fireworks around the clock.

We were hosted every day by Andy’s extended family; pancakes in the morning, traditional posole in the afternoon.

We befriend a young woman working behind the counter at the local ice cream shop.

She took us up to the mesa to visit the home of her family.

Her father owns the ice cream shop, and they live in a large beautiful house overlooking Chilchota.

In some ways it was easier to communicate with Lupita; our language skills and interests were similar. We would point out animals and name them in English and in Spanish.

“caballo” “horse”

Out walking one day, Jeff and I came across something on the outskirts of town;

towers of bricks built up in the shape of low pyramids. They were about 15 feet tall and just as wide. Standing in an empty field with the mountains behind, they looked magnificent.

“What could they be?” We asked Andy when we got home. “Furnaces,” he said, “for firing the bricks.”

Jeff got right to work planning out his project.

He wanted to draw thick horizontal lines across the furnaces with construction chalk,

and we helped him plan out and paint the lines; transforming one of the pyramids into a temple or else camouflaging it to disappear.

One day we visited the historic Prado villa; the family of Andy’s great-granduncle.

Andy’s aunt gave us a tour of the compound and showed us an old rundown theater that the family operated up through the 1980’s.

It now stands in near ruin, with bats fluttering in the ceiling and dust thickening on row after row of folding chairs. Standing in darkness in the theater, impressions of Chilchota’s past flicker in front of me like an old film real.

In the center of the house there is a beautiful interior courtyard and you can see the original post and beam structure holding up the heavy terracotta roof .

I asked Andy’s family if they will let me do a rubbing of one of the wooden posts.

I wanted to hang the rubbing in Andy’s mom’s house, which is a beautiful new construction that replaced a villa much like the Prado residence.

At the end of our two week residence in Chilchota, we had an exhibition of our artwork. Andy and Julie helped explain the projects to their friends and family. They were especially curious about Jeff’s painted furnaces.

“I pass by these things every day,” said Andy’s aunt, “but now will I look at them differently.”

“Underlying Structures” by Jeff Williams, 2010

“Rubbing of Post at the Prado Residence” by Marie Lorenz, 2010

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