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An Evening of Song and Art

Atotonilco is only a 20 minute drive from San Miguel. From the highway exit, the main road turns left for half a mile , leading to a long, curvy driveway that winds through eight acres of ancient mesquite trees and frontage on the Rio Laja, and ends at an extraordinary unique and colorful contemporary building. Susan and Mayer found the property on a trip to San Miguel in 2001, when it was a neglected piece of land with two abandoned warehouses that had been a factory for rattan furniture. At the time there were only scruffy trees and falling-down structures without a single window. Now the property and buildings have been transformed by celebrated architects and a landscape architect into a combination of the owners’ different dreams: Mayer wanted to garden and live a back-to-the-land kind of life, and Susan wanted to live in a New York loft. Here they have satisfied both aesthetics.

This is their home. Attached to it is the home of Mayer’s Galaria Atotonilco, which is reputed to have the best Mexican folk art collection to be found anywhere in the world. I have been there once before last evening. It was an overwhelming experience. Folk art dominates every inch of wall and floor space, the objects spilling over from gallery to their private home. There are fabrics and masks, jewelry, pottery, sculpture that come from all over Mexico and Guatemala, the finest examples representing each of the crafts, showcasing the finest craftsmen found in the villages all over the country. The first time Jack and I visited Galeria Atotonilco with friends Andrea and Paul Kane, Mayer gave us a two hour explanation about the pieces in his collection in both his home and the gallery. His passion for the art and artists whose work he sells carries him away, far beyond any concern about making a sale. He wants everyone to know and appreciate the work on display. It is as difficult to navigate through the objects of art as it is difficult to end the tour since Mayer seems to be incapable of noticing the time that has passed as he lectures on.

Although Susan shares Mayer’s interest in the culture of the indigenous tribes of Mexico, her over-riding passion is for literature and for the people who write and read books, which is the reason for Jack’s and my second visit to their home. 19 years ago, after little more than a year in San Miguel, Susan founded the San Miguel Writer’s Conference, which will be meeting next February in person, after two years holding their sessions on line. Last night was a kick-off fund-raiser for the conference. The centerpiece of the evening was folk singer and archivist Paul Ramshaw who has collected folk songs dating as far back as the 1960”s. Paul brought copies of the lyrics to some of the songs and we were invited to sing along. I balked at first, having a terrible voice, and knowing none of the songs he planned to sing. But the music and the spirit of the crowd seduced me into not caring about how I sounded, and I ended up loving the songs, which were heart-felt calls to the humanity in all of us, a cry for unity among hunble people sharing a need for freedom and justice. It turns out, Paul and Susan were once husband and wife. “We were each other’s starter marriage.” Now, Paul and his wife are close friends of Mayers’ and Susan’s, and Susan joined Paul singing a duo with him. The lyrics couldn’t have felt more necessary in these troubled times. When the applause died down and Susan’s plea for support for the Writers’ Conference had been made, we walked outside to an extraordinary sight. Spotlights illuminated an ancient mesquite tree in their front yard, the moon making a shy, but breathtaking appearance through its leaves. I thought once again, how lucky we are to be here, to experience nature’s gift to us. All that is required is that we open our eyes and listen.

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