Among the many wonderful, purposeful things we older women can do with our lives, now that we’re no longer young and seen as serving mainly decorative or procreative purposes, I feel, is to become role models, patrons, or mentors for younger people. We can open-heartedly open doors to those for whom those doors might otherwise be shut tight or completely out of sight.
Here is a perfect example of this, in my view:
Some six years ago, award-winning San Miguel de Allende visual artist Victoria Pierce (75) asked her gardener/handyman Juan Eduardo Rios Mancilla, then 34, to make a mosaic tile tabletop for a small wrought iron side table in her garden. This project led to other small mosaic projects in her home, until Victoria noticed something: Juan’s latent artistic talent.
So one day she took him to visit a friend of hers, the late artist Anado McLauchlin at his Chapel of Jimmy Ray Gallery 5 km outside of San Miguel in the village of Cieneguita. This gallery, a 2.5-acre mostly mosaic art installation, has been called “a mosaic wonderland,” “filled with mosaic whimsy and delightful mirth.”
That tour of that phantasmagorical gallery that day changed Juan Eduardo’s life. On the drive back into San Miguel, he didn’t speak at all, Victoria told me. When she asked him how he was, he just pointed to his head and indicated with his hands that it was exploding.
According to writer Jan Pogue, in an article for San Miguel’s Atencion newspaper in 2020 titled, “From Gardener to Mosaic Artist: The Amazing Work of Juan Eduardo Rios Mancilla,” Juan had lived “a complicated life”:
“As a child,” Pogue writes, “he sometimes didn’t have enough to eat and wore shoes from the dump. He started working when he was twelve, dropping out of primary school in San Miguel. He’s done pretty much everything to earn a living, including working as a gardener…”
In recent years, though — thanks to the woman he calls his “angel,” the person who gave him the opportunity to create both his art and his new life, Victoria Pierce — Juan has been hailed as an artist and in demand for his intricate and beautiful tile mosaics.
Juan’s first mosaic installation (below) was on the front wall of Victoria’s home on Calle Tata Nacho in Colonia Guadalupe. “He came up with the idea of doing a huge tableau showing Mayan history and mythology,” Victoria said. “I gave him full permission and free reign. If he asked for my advice, I’d say, ‘I don’t know. You’re the artist.’”
His second installation, on the other side of Victoria’s house, was of Frida Kahlo and other characters – including a bust of Juan’s father (labeled “el borracho”):
That was the beginning. Since then Juan has done close to 100 mosaics, both on the exterior and interior of private homes throughout San Miguel, but particularly in Colonia Guadalupe, which has been known as the arts district of the city.
Currently, Juan is working on a large project in Colonia Guadalupe on a wall facing the arroyo (at the corner of Calle Farolito), sponsored by residents of the neighborhood who love Juan’s work. This installation, which should be completed in a couple of months, will be something of a panorama of the city, with the Parroquia, of course, as the star.
The purpose of this neighborhood project, Victoria told me, is “beautification.” “We want to make it a really pretty walkway, with trees, plants, benches. It’s a long-term project. We can only go as fast as the trees will grow.”
When I asked Victoria about herself, she told me she too is a self-taught artist, who didn’t begin to paint until she was close to fifty years old. “Until then,” she said, “I believed my seventh-grade art teacher, Miss Turner, who told me, ‘You’ll never be an artist. Grass is not blue!’”
In the twenty-five years since then Victoria has won awards for her art, and her work – primarily abstract acrylics — is currently in the Cseis Gallery at the art and design center in SMA, Fabrica la Aurora. Now, she says, she paints every day. “I just have to do it,” she says. “I don’t know what I would do with my days if I wasn’t in my studio painting.”
Always I ask interviewees the same question at the end: What would you like your legacy to be? Victoria paused a while before answering. “Well,” she said, “I guess it could be, ‘She lived a good life, she was a good friend and mother, and she helped where she could.’”
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- To see more of Juan Eduardo Rios Mancilla’s mosaics and to learn more about him, please visit: https://mas.info/MosaicsByJuanE or go to his FB page: https://www.facebook.com/juaneduardo.riosmancilla
- For more about artist Victoria Pierce, go to: www.victoriapierce.com