Arte Popular: Mexican Folk Art from the Collection of Pat and Judd Wagner is a celebration of the rich folk art traditions that reach more than 2,000 years into Mexico’s past. Seventy-five extraordinary objects collected from villages, towns, and cities throughout Mexico attest to the continuation of these deeply rooted traditions. While some objects were created as tourist and folk arts for sale to outsiders, many were made for use in daily life. “Every object makes us smile,” says Judd Wagner when talking about his and wife Pat’s collection. “As we continue to collect and appreciate the wonders of Mexican folk art, we are thrilled at the imagination and rich tradition evident in each piece. We love the culture and want to share something that makes us happy with the community.” Arte Popular is on view at Joslyn Art Museum from July 5 through November 29.
Created from a wide array of materials such as clay, plant fibers, wood, metals, cotton, wool, silk, paper, stone, leather, shell, wax, and feathers, the objects are ceremonial and profane, utilitarian and decorative, parodic and whimsical, reflecting communal lives and values. Many of the artists use techniques handed down for generations, often within the same families and villages. The resulting works reveal the artists’ connections to their communities, land, traditions, and cultures. The Wagners note that, quite often, a piece in their collection will reference a folk tale, ritual, or festival. For them, much of the fun is learning more about the folklore and culture that inspired the work.
”Our interest in Mexican folk art began in the 1960s when Judd’s mother brought us a nativity set from one of her several trips to Mexico. We loved the colors and the primitive nature of the pieces. She continued to bring us various pieces of folk art in tin, fabric, and ceramics,” said Pat. Since then the Wagners have become serious connoisseurs and collectors of Mexican folk art. For over 30 years their collection has grown to range from fabulous “street art” of self-trained artists and craftsmen to pieces created by the recognized masters of the genre. A visit to the Mexican Fine Arts Center in Chicago in 2002 to see the exhibition Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art led to the couple’s awareness of a more evolved type of folk art. They began collecting the work of recognized masters of the craft, including Manuel Jiménez Ramírez, Defina Cruz, Maurico Hernández Colmenero, Irene Aguilar Alcantara, Guillermina Aguilar, Josephina Aguilar, and David Linares.
From the 1990s to today, the Wagners have traveled to many areas of Mexico collecting art from each region. From the border towns of Texas to the ancient ruins and villages of Mexico, they have acquired folk art that mirrors the country’s history and represents the intricate social, economic, and cultural networks of artists living in the countryside, in the working-class neighborhoods of the cities, and in the numerous enclaves of indigenous people.