When she was growing up in central Massachusetts in the ’60s, author Catherine Marenghi learned, in bits and pieces, that her parents had once had a successful gladiolus farm.
As she describes it now (and more fully in her acclaimed 2017 memoir Glad Farm), “The land was once ablaze with tall gladiolus flowers, up to six feet tall, in every color imaginable. So the flower has a very special personal meaning for me, as it did for my parents, who worked so hard to make their flower farm a success.”
Much later in life, Catherine learned the truth about her parents’ glad farm’s failure and the reason why their growing family struggled so: In the 1950s, the gladiolus, which had once been “a wildly popular flower,” Catherine writes in Glad Farm, fell from favor, and the market for gladiolus plummeted.
In large part to honor her parents’ heroic efforts, Catherine has recently “planted” a permanent gladiolus (glad) garden made of mosaic tiles on the front wall of her home here in the Colonia Guadalupe neighborhood of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
One of the reasons Catherine originally chose to live in Colonia Guadalupe, she told me, was its reputation as an arts district, famous for its street murals. But it was only recently that she became intrigued with the idea of having a mosaic installed on her front wall.
“I was stunned by the brilliant mosaics I saw on the home of Victoria Pierce, a neighbor, a fine artist, and a good friend,” Catherine said. “These were rendered in mosaic magnificently by her gardener, Juan Eduardo Rios Mancilla, and I couldn’t resist thinking about places to have such a mosaic in my own home.
“At the same time,” she added, “I watched a giant bougainvillea vine in front of my house suffer terribly from disease, and I decided to have it removed and replaced with a mosaic garden. It will be much more permanent than the painted murals this colonia is famous for – and it will never need watering!”
There was no question that Catherine would choose Juan Eduardo to “plant” this mosaic garden for her because of his natural artistic talent and his master-craftsmanship.
“He was fortunate to have Victoria Pierce as his first client,” Catherine said, “because she, as an artist herself, recognized his innate talent. Since then, he has been very grateful to Victoria for her support. He calls her ‘mi angel’.”
Now 38, married and the father of three, Juan Eduardo has been working to earn a living, mainly as a gardener, since he was 12 years old. Today, to his amazement, he finds himself hailed as an artist in demand for his intricate and beautiful tile mosaics. As a modest man, it is hard for him to accept the title of “artist,” but he says he is deeply grateful for this new opportunity in life.
“Since my gladiolus garden mosaic was installed,” Catherine told me, “I delight in seeing passers-by stop and pause to admire it. Many take photos, and friends have told me that it cheers them as they walk past.”
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To see more of Juan Eduardo Rios Mancilla’s mosaic artwork, please visit his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/juaneduardo.riosmancilla . And to learn more about author Catherine Marenghi’s published works, be sure to visit her website: www.marenghi.com .