There do not seem to be limits to creativity and imagination in Mexican folk art. Ingenuity and spontaneity of these popular creations of the Mexican were not apparent until the beginning of the twentieth century, for mindsets accustomed to possess and use all kinds of decorative art imported from the abroad. The utilitarian objects manufactured by the people – if they were found in household inventories – were essential in the kitchen, the toilet or in an infinite number of domestic cares of every day, but so far their importance came.
Mexican art amazed the richness of the bright color of the exhibited pieces, the fineness of its forms and the beauty that emanated from the great variety of objects of popular art that were exhibited. In the catalog, clay objects, blown glass, lacquered Olinalá, wood sculptures of pueblerinos saints , votives, Talavera pottery, charros harnesses, rebozos and small jewels made in the villages for the showcasing of women were included. The great collectors began to acquire them to exhibit them in their homes and in special rooms of their museums. This is how the fame in North America of Mexican popular art began to consolidate.
Folk art in The Blue House
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had married in 1929. Although they had many encounters and disagreements, from the first moment they finally settled in La Casa Azul de Coyoacán, they began to use daily and collect those samples of the folk art of the town. Rivera had already influenced Frida’s mentality with her personality, who adopted her ideas without difficulty. The couple not only used everyday objects such as furniture, dishes, tablecloths and kitchen dishes; they also collected decorative objects that were pleasing to their developed artistic senses and nationalist inclinations. With intelligence, Frida and Diego perceived not only what aesthetics had been in the nineteenth century and its fashions, but also the new policy: the fact that it represented the first struggle and efforts of the people of Mexico to acquire their identity when independence was consummated and free yourself from Spanish rule. It was the time when nationalism began in the arts. In the Academy of San Carlos this current manifested itself in sculpture and painting. There Rivera made his first artistic studies.
The academic painters sensitized to the new current and began to represent scenes that rescued passages of pre-Hispanic history, the drama of the conquest and the eagerness of the missionaries who arrived in New Spain. Newly graduated students penciled the country’s flora and fauna and the first models of Mexican popular types.
The romanticism of the time had manifested that same search for national identity in literary institutions such as the Lateran Academy and the Hidalgo Lyceum . The writers sought to capture the idiosyncrasies of the people, and reflect in their texts lives, thoughts and customs, bequeathing unforgettable passages, memories of those times and novels.
That nationalist desire was also expressed in music. The musicians rescued popular melodies that had always been and remain, in the mind and voice of the people. Frida sang them, as several acquaintances of the artist testified in addition to the instruments found in her bedroom. At the beginning of the twentieth century vernacular music composers renowned served as leitmotiv to create outstanding works.
The dining room of La Casa Azul
In that family enclosure, Frida and Diego adorned the walls with popular paintings of the 19th century. These images represent still lifes or still lifes with images of Mexican vegetables, fruits and objects placed in native pots. They also led to the revaluation of other contemporary emuli that were previously in vogue in nineteenth-century bourgeois dining rooms. On the table in the dining room, Frida Kahlo used to put tablecloths from different areas of the country showing variety of needle, needlework hook, applications and colored embroidery and openwork. Different types of tablecloths and folders have been preserved and restored at the Frida Kahlo Museum. They constitute a representative sample of the skill and good taste of Mexican seamstresses.
In the center of the table they wore colorful bats or lacquered guajes with arrangements of paper flower corsages or baskets with wax fruits. Some examples of Puebla, Oaxaca, Michoacán and the State of Mexico will remain in the dishes of La Casa Azul. Those dishes were not completely survived at the hands of cooks, the trips, packaging and unpacking of artists and the passage of time. According to testimonies, the couple used the dining room daily and there they also entertained important diners. The walls of this area have several wooden storage rooms painted in bright yellow. Overflowing with objects of folk art, some notable pieces of clay made by those first artisans who reproduced the popular types that lived in nineteenth-century Mexico. In this rescue of the national identity, the couple of artists recovered the very Mexican images of the tortilla, the charro, the fruit seller, the loader and the coal worker. These are output pieces mainly from the Panduro family of Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. For generations, these figures have worked in colored clay. These samples still serve and have served in many Mexican families to accompany the images of the “births” that are mounted in the homes during the holidays. Sadly the bill of the most recent works is of lower quality. We can also consider in these storage rooms, in all kinds of shapes and sizes, plates and objects of blown glass created in the precious cobalt blue color that was the mark of distinction of the highest mentioned.
In the collection that Diego and Frida collected, numerous samples of Patamban glazed clay in Michoacán are not lacking. The collection contains plates, plates, cups and vessels that continue to show off their famous green color with dark decorations, as well as many examples of Tzintzuntzan crockery with ornaments of lacustrine motifs: fishermen, fish and ducks on cream engobe. An ancient and colorful Tibor de Guanajuato, located in a corner of the house, surprises with its beauty and its enormous dimensions. The piece shows in an oval the image of a man with large mustaches wearing a jacket with large flaps embroidered in the style of the charro landowner. The piece is part of the decoration of the Blue House, as well as many objects with “petatillo” decoration, distinctive of the Jalisco entity of Tonalá. An eagle and tule horses are placed on the chimney that served, on occasion, as models for Frida’s paintings.
A ceramic watch placed in a storage room remained marked the hours of the marriage of artists. Another broken clock indicates the time of his divorce in 1939, a fact that Frida consigned to his private diary. Cardboard judas, made on behalf of Carmen Caballero, must have cheered the couple’s meetings. They admired them for their colorful and fantastic shapes. Outstanding is also the case of the sculptures by Mardonio Magaña that are found in every corner of the house. They represent the people of the people performing the activities of their daily work. The sculptor carved those pieces in stone or wood and possibly make up the most complete collection of works by said artist.
In this important room of La Casa Azul, Mexican dishes were prepared with which humble guests and important people, friends and acquaintances of the couple were equally entertained. Mexican folk art continued to capture the daily scenes of the country and has left us the memory of cooks, mothers and grandmothers stewing in sound pots, well glazed and burned, or the essential use of metates and molcajetes very well carved in stone of the town of San Salvador el Seco. Frida always took the time to learn to cook in this way. Its cuisine is a sample of the traditional atmosphere of the housewives: place of meetings, confidences and feminine learning. According to Frida’s own testimony, Lupe Marín, Rivera’s previous wife, taught her how to prepare the moles that pleased the painter so much and even accompanied her to the market to buy casseroles and pots to prepare them.
The large coal stove in the kitchen, lined with Talavera tiles and charcoal braziers, grills and an aventador, shows several examples of pots, casseroles and clay containers. The pieces come from potters from various states of the country. In them the traditional recipes of the Mexican dishes were prepared with which the diners of La Casa Azul were entertained. In the style of the old Mexican kitchens, ladles and wooden spoons hang on wooden shelves with tufts, carved in Patzcuaro. Pots and lacquered beams, as well as vessels and jugs for pulque made of clay or glass and containers for fresh water, complete the necessary waxes in an indigenous kitchen. You could not miss the unforgettable bottle with its glass, which retained the freshness of the water and gave away its muddy flavor .
Comadre, when I die,
Make my clay a jug,
And if the lips sticks
They are the kisses of his charro.
A kitchen wall is adorned by a pair of doves delineated with clay jars. On their flight, the figures wear a figurative tie with the names of the artists: Diego and Frida.
In 1940, a year after their divorce, the couple remarried. It was then that Frida arranged a bedroom for her wandering husband. A photograph of the artist adorns the space on the head of the bed. On top of the bed pillows, Frida placed cushions with legends embroidered in colors that say: Two hearts united and Wake up, sleeping heart. In the room also sports a large wooden chest lacquered in Michoacán that shows Mexican landscapes. For its part, a charrería scene decorates one of the walls of Diego Rivera’s room. In this painting of popular origin naive charras are naively shown: the trade and passion characteristic of the Mexican charro from then and today. In an original oil painting by the painter Mariano Silva Vandeira, a voluptuous and plump Venus who smiles at Diego from the wall of the room is depicted. On his bed he has kept his blanket clothes, his shoes, his hats and some Apizaco canes carved in wood that still retain their color. Several of his leather backpacks with fine work of saddlery are also part of the painter’s trousseau. All objects of folk art incorporated in the collection of The Blue House have the great advantage of having been acquired more than half a century ago, when they were not yet manufactured in series. At the time, the creators did not manufacture them driven by profit motive, but as souvenirs for tourists or decoration for diplomatic representations. These are original and unrepeatable objects, created to be used and sensibly enjoyed by their owners.
In several walls of La Casa Azul, as is the case of the study of Frida and the courtyard of the stairs, they portraits of José María Estrada found. This Tapatio painter used to capture in his canvases simple images of those first Mexican bourgeois who could already afford his portraits and wanted to leave them for his family and posterity. Today, these works are part of the history of evolution and of the recognition of Mexican folk painting of the twentieth century. The work of some anonymous artists was also represented in this collection. Unaware of imposing strict canons academies, were inspired to achieve naive portraits of people from the village located in their surroundings and dressed in the fashion of the time. This last fact makes them particularly valuable for representing local customs and customs. For Frida and Diego, these works captured the spontaneous grace of the painter and the humble image of the man, woman or child of the town.
For several years, Frida collected numerous children’s objects, toys and portraits. Motherhood had been denied, so she tried to acquire several images of popular painting that showed young children. The portrait of a dead baby occupy an important place in his bedroom. In some of these representations, regardless of the sex or age of the infants, the painter placed a lacquered Michoacán hand on their hands. Used as rattles or children’s toys, they were accessories that were used as a theme by very popular bill painters. The pieces served to clearly indicate the tender age of children who, on occasion, show faces of adults because of the artist’s inability and the costumes of the elderly who put them for the occasion of the portrait. These paintings have a charm of freshness and ingenuity with which they were conceived. Both the lacquered guaja-rattles and small red jícaras decorated with flowers and ducklings were used in the homes of Mexicans to entertain children, bathe them in the tubs or serve their chocolate in the kitchen. These vegetable containers, without lacquered or with complicated carvings, were very common half a century ago. Several samples of this variant are present in La Casa Azul.
Vows at La Casa Azul
Votives and “retablitos” as it is popularly called in Mexico, are votive paintings are testimony to the faith of the petitioner. They constitute a valuable document not only from the artistic point of view of popular painting but also from the human and historical scene. The origins of this type of work date from the dawn of humanity, when the intellect in the formation of man sought to propitiate the elements of nature that favored him or protection against those who damaged him or could cause death. In this expression of popular art, magic and religion were integrated. In the pieces the favors of supernatural entities were invoked, offering them the best they had: their first fruits and their animals. In thanksgiving, the creators of the vows offered ritual sacrifices and dedicated small temples and shrines as testimony of their devotion. All the civilizations that preceded us left a tangible mark of invocations of this nature to the divinities and to the recognition of their power.
The most outstanding events in human life were a source of gratitude: birth, marriage, puberty and even death itself. In the “retablitos”, the soldiers offered their weapons, the workers their work tools, the women their hair, the children their toys and the athletes their trophies. Vows were also made and prayers were offered for recovery or for the relief of diseases and pests, help was requested in case of a difficult birth and prayed to avoid droughts and invoke the rain. If the favor or request was obtained, it was essential to keep the promise and make it patent and visible. Thus, throughout history, humanity has seen significant votings: the thanks of the powerful who built great temples, chapels and altarpieces for having regained health, obtained victory in famous battles or reaching the end of wars. In our country, the habit of offering testimonies of gratitude gained momentum when the people became aware of the extensive saints contributed by the Hispanic culture. The Christianized Mexican accepted the various advocations of the Virgin Mary as a mediator, the multitude of images of Christ that were venerated or his favorite saints and patrons. In Mexico, this custom acquired very sui generis manifestations. All kinds of materials served to fulfill the promises for the favors received.
From those distant times, the case of a particularly famous and notable vote is remembered. Work of a good and famous architect for its cost, it was the representation of a tick carved in gold with a diamond offered by Don Ignacio Castoreña to the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos when visiting his sanctuary after having healed from an ear . Another interesting sample of that kind in La Casa Azul, was painted in oil on canvas and has regular dimensions. According to the corresponding section, the altarpiece was promised by the fervent realist Juan Antonio González who confesses to having requested help “among some individuals because of the shortage in their proportions.” His wild request included the Blessed Trinity and the Virgin of Solitude of the Holy Cross, painted on the ex-vote, to help “His Beloved Sovereign Ferdinand VII to preserve life and be restored to his throne because it has been taken away in Bayonne for Napoleon’s perfidy. ” The work is dated in Mexico on September 1, 1814.
More humble signs of gratitude are the votives painted on small plates as well as the so-called Mexican “miracles.” These range from small figures made of gold, silver, copper, horn or metal representing crutches, eyes, hearts or crosses symbolizing the recovery of a disease from the petitioner or a loved one. The farmer offers the promised vow or miracle with images of animals such as his horse, donkey, cow or sheep that had been lost. There are votive vows that appreciate his release and asked to be portrayed kneeling outside the prison. A curious votive offering on the occasion of the relief of heart disease, are in a cut sheet and says the letter heart “by abérseme uncovered the bálvula of the heart.”
In the Mexican popular art the subject of votive vows occupies a very special place. The purpose of the votive offerings or “retablitos” was to capture the plastic relationship of the miracle or the favor received that assumes tangible form in a rectangle of sheet painted in primary colors. Several hundred ex-votes were acquired by Frida and now occupy a prominent place in the La Casa Azul collection. In the “retablitos”, perspective and compositions are aimed at recounting a wonderful event, without pictorially attending formal rules.
The donor appears of fennel, in bed or at the time the accident occurs, reason for the request and the promise. The divinity is seen nimbated and floating in space.
Simplicity is the great quality in these samples of popular art. Its authors, mostly anonymous, did not belong to painting schools and lacked the essential technical knowledge to perform a work of a firm nature. Its charm lies in the spontaneous creation, without intentional background, and in the natural feeling. In addition, the artists of the votives had to interpret the story of the attributed and grateful donor, which is particularly moving. The epigraphs at the bottom of the paintings suffer from misspellings and with the writing of the painters, also converted into writers, many jocular pages could be filled. The importance of these popular paintings originates in the account of the candid promise and the naive gratitude offered to the saint or to the divinity of his devotion.
The main advocations of the virgin Mary venerated in Jalisco are: Talpa, Zapopan and San Juan de los Lagos . The Virgen del Rosario de Talpa is the recipient of most of the votive vows that were incorporated into the collection of La Casa Azul. It is very interesting to read the requests raised to this Marian invocation. Although the pictorial format is repeated, the interest lies in the reflection on the human condition and its hardships, its needs, weaknesses and devotions. These works are moved by his sincerity in the various scenes of country and home where the request for divinity received a favorable response. Runaway horses, swollen rivers, fires, tremors, crashes, kidney stones and country quarrels were arranged by the saints who received in thanks the promised and humble gift.
Several votive vows dedicated to the Holy Kings in the Blue House collection exemplify in particular the idiosyncrasy of the Mexican. The wise astronomers who, according to St. Matthew , came to worship the Infant Jesus, became kings in the Christian tradition, but also acquired the category of saints in the devotion and imagination of the people.
Relevant testimony of Frida Kahlo’s pictorial work is the important place she occupies in Mexican art. All the objects of folk art that surrounded the painter in La Casa Azul, and that were part of her daily existence, both in health and in ailments and that the artist collected with the affection and admiration that is due to what was created by The hands of the Mexican are part of the important collection of the museum in which his memory is venerated.
Frida Kahlo Museum
La Casa Azul (The Blue House) was the place where Frida Kahlo, the most renowned Latin American artist in the world, came into this world, lived, and took her last breath. The building, which dates to 1904, was not a large-scale construction.
As one explores Frida Kahlo’s work more deeply and enjoys the privilege of getting to know her home, one begins to discover the intense interrelations between Frida, her work, and her house. Her creative universe is to be found in the Blue House, the place where she was born and where she died. Following her marriage to Diego Rivera, Frida lived in different places in Mexico City and abroad, but she always returned to her family home in Coyoacán
Located in one of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods in Mexico City, the Blue House was made into a museum in 1958, four years after the death of the painter. Today it is one of the most popular museums in the Mexican capital.
Today it has an 800 m2 building surrounded by property measuring 1200 m2. Diego and Frida filled it with color, folk art, and pre-Hispanic pieces to show their admiration for the peoples and cultures of Mexico. The construction underwent two major modifications. When Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived with Diego and Frida in 1937, the property today occupied by the garden was purchased. In 1946 Diego Rivera asked Juan O’Gorman to build Frida’s studio. The interior of the house has been maintained virtually intact. This was respected by the poet and the couple’s friend, Carlos Pellicer, who designed the museum display for the space after Frida’s death. Therefore, the house and its contents preserve that intimate atmosphere.