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World-Class Sculptors Find Inspiration, Audience in Puerto Vallarta
email this pageprint this pageemail usRoberta Rand - PVNN
February 03, 2010

The first Puerto Vallarta International Sculpture Symposium continues through February 13, 2010.
Puerto Vallarta loves art, especially three-dimensional art of colossal proportions. Who wasn't impressed the first time they encountered Neptune and those behemoth whales guarding the entrance to the Marina?

With magnificent light and the Pacific Ocean for a front yard, Puerto Vallarta is the ideal backdrop for sculpture. An array of dramatic bronzes dot the city, from the sublime - Ramiz Barquet's "La Nostalgia," on the Malecón, to the ridiculous: what appear to be giant anthropomorphized baked potatoes studding the Icon Vallarta complex.

Whatever your opinion of the Bustamante ladder to heaven or Alejandro Colunga's chromosomally-challenged sea creatures, no one can argue with their appeal to the masses of visitors to PV. Public art of any pedigree adds to our quality of life, and we're lucky to have such an abundance of it here.

So, it's only right that PV should play host to the first Puerto Vallarta International Sculpture Symposium (PVISS), running from now until February 13 at Casa Alexandra, 1030 Calle Brasil, in the Cinco de Diciembre neighborhood. Ten internationally-renowned sculptors representing Mexico, Scotland, Argentina, Australia, Spain, Korea and the US have converged on the casa's 3,000-ft. workshop, where they will be drilling, filing and chipping away at blocks of Canterra limestone, mined in Queraterro, Mexico, and auctioning off their work during a show at the Peter Gray Museum on February 13th.

Making Big Rocks into Little Rocks

Day One of the symposium was spent wrestling mammoth chunks of pink limestone from horizontal to vertical position. The blocks weigh anywhere from 900 lbs. to 1500 lbs. and are manhandled into position with winches, jacks and blocks of wood.

Carving began in earnest on Day Two, with sculptors wielding hammers, chisels and power tools, throwing off clouds of pink dust that filled the studio and obscured the view of Banderas Bay in the near distance. Small mock-ups of the planned sculptures called "maquettes" serve as templates.

According to sculptor Tom Allan, the maquettes serve as rough drafts for the final sculpture. "The stone itself sometimes dictates how it should be carved. Not to get too mystical or anything," he says with a gentle Scottish lilt, "but it lets me know how it needs to be carved."

Roughly a third to half of the massive stone blocks will eventually be carved away, requiring frequent trips with a wheelbarrow to remove the mounting piles of stone chips. The artists are heavily protected with face masks, hearing protection and safety glasses. All wear scarves around their heads. Some wear coveralls. After a day in the studio, they are covered head-to-toe in pink dust. Cleanup involves being literally blown clean with high-velocity air hoses.

Even on this second day of a two-week symposium, shapes are beginning to emerge. Flat planes and right angles are giving way to the sensual curve of a human shoulder, a leg folded at the knee. The nearly flesh-colored limestone adds to the illusion of something warm and pliable. But make no mistake: it's hard labor creating beauty out of stone.

The Artists

Artists taking part in the PVISS include:

Tom Allan - Scotland
Martin Distancia Barragan - Mexico
David Alejandro Martinez Bucio - Mexico
Birgit Grapentin- Australia/Germany
Won Lee - South Korea
Jose Carlos Cabello Millan - Spain
Dana O'Donnell - US
Manuel Palos - Mexico
Carole Turner - US

Casa Alexandra: An Affordable Retreat for Creative Souls

So how did Casa Alexandra come to be? The house and studio were the vision of sculptor Manuel Palos, who designed and built the sprawling, three-level hacienda 35 years ago with the help of an architect, and named it after his daughter, Alexandra. His dream has always been to have a place where artists and other creative people could affordably live and work for weeks at a time.

The Palos Talleres de Arte work space gives sculptors the elbow room necessary to carve their oversized works of art, along with the added bonus of an uninterrupted view of old PV and the ocean beyond. The large third-floor terrace of the main house can be cleared to host painting, dance and yoga workshops. The house recently hosted a tango workshop.

"The problem for artists in a place like Italy, or other countries in Europe, is that it's expensive," says Manuel. "Travel, studio space, tools, housing - all those things are costly in Europe. Artists can come to Mexico and experience similar beauty and inspiration as they would in a place like Italy, but for a fraction of the cost."

Manuel's goal is to have artists, writers, dancers and other creative people occupying Casa Alexandra year-round. "I love the feeling of family and community that develops when artists are able to work and live together, sharing meals and ideas."

For the sculptors living and working at Casa Alexandra, the lush surroundings, communal kitchen and a massive dining table allow guests to relax, prepare meals and socialize in a home-like setting. After a hard, noisy, dirty day in the studio, everyone can kick back and watch the sunset from the rooftop terrace or congregate around the dining room table for meals and conversation.

Casa Alexandra and Manuel Palo's vision of a year-round retreat for artists is a work in progress. The sculpture symposium is just the first in what Manuel hopes will be a series of retreats and workshops.

The Puerto Vallarta Sculpture Symposium will run until Feb 13. The public is invited to view the artists at work daily from 10 am-12 pm and from 3-5 pm. DIRECTIONS: From the Malecon, turn left on Calle Argentina (just in front of the park), follow the road next to the wall of the underground parking garage, go uphill two blocks, past the Our Lady of Refuge church, and make a hard left onto narrow Calle Brasil. Casa Alexandra is on the left. Listen for the sounds of sculptors at work, and signs on the wooden doors at 1030 Calle Brasil.

All finished sculptures will be available for sale at the end of the symposium. Final exhibition and auction will take place at the Peter Gray Museum of Art, Centro Universitario de la Costa Universidad de Guadalajara, Feb 13, 4-8 pm.

Developing News: Beginning Saturday, February 6, sculptures-in-progress will be moved to the Malecón, near the amphitheater, where the artists will continue to carve and shape their works.

For more information about room availability at Casa Alexandra, or to rent the entire house, please email casaalexandrarainpv(at), or call Marcella Castellanas, Vonage (US) line: (415) 839-6749, Local: (322) 222-5853, Cell: 044-322-292-6121.

Prior to relocating to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico from Colorado Springs with her dog, Bo, Roberta Rand worked as a magazine editor, web editor and marketing copywriter. She is also an essayist and author, whose book "Playing the Tuba at Midnight" explored the quirks of living single.

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