Wednesday, January 21, 2015

San Miguel de Allende

Bienvenidos a San Miguel de Allende

If one can truly be enchanted by a place, then San Miguel de Allende is just that...a town of enchantment.

We were invited to attend the opening of our friend's exhibition in this lovely town.  Maestro Antonio Lopez Vega was exhibiting new works at a local eatery and we didn't want to miss it.  We packed our bags and headed out, with smiles on our faces and images of 17th century architecture, traditional and new, adventurous cuisine and the lovely faces of dear friends.

The eatery listed for the opening was "Provecho", on the grounds of the former 17th Century palace of the Counts of Canal, which later became the Instituto Allende, was a building that had once housed a small restaurant. It had been empty for some time and had fallen into a state of dilapidation. It had possibilities however.

Retaining the old stone walls, saving what was salvageable and respecting its colonial bones and with the talents of architect, Radames Olvera Lopez and manager, Gustavo Martinez Aguilar we created an inviting new space that is PROVECHO.

PROVECHO is a Bistro del Arte with paintings and plants, poetry, music and more and the chef, Joanna Bryne, presents international food that tickles the palette and comforts the soul.

Siobhan Bryne, Cynthia and Sally meet

Enjoying the ambiance, hand made books and art 

Maestro Antonio sits on one of his artpieces and signs books

Instituto Allende

Instituo Allende 
(taken from

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The Canal Family Summer Home

San Miguel's most prominent family, the de la Canals, started building a summer estate in the southwest corner of town in 1735 complete with reservoir.  Soon after, their most famous daughter,  Josefa, was born here.  Sixteen years later she would start a convent in town, down the street from their winter palace. With the great sense of timing that often characterizes the transactions of the rich, the Canals sold the estate to another order of nuns who wanted to establish a base in San Miguel.  The year was 1809 and shortly thereafter the mob descended upon San Miguel to kick off  the War of Independence.  

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The buyers were the Discalced Carmelite  Sisters, followers of St. Teresa of Ávila, who lived in communities which pretty much kept to themselves rather than serving the community.  Discalced refers to the practice of going barefoot (or at least in sandals with the feet exposed) started in the Western world by Francis of Assisi.   The nuns had great plans to expand the complex into the Canals' pecan and citrus orchards.  They hired one of the most prominent Spanish architects of the day; however, the revolution pretty well cratered their plans.

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In 1951 this site became the home of the Instituto Allende, now one of the most widely known Latin American art schools.  Many also learn Spanish here -- all under the auspices of the University of Guanajuato.

Instituto Allende's DNA stems from the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes founded in the Centro area of San Miguel in 1938 in what is now called the Nigromonte Center but which was, in fact, the convent built by Josefa de la Canal who was born on this site.  At any rate, the Spanish colonial arcades (restored in the early 1950s) create a cloister-like setting with landscaping, fountains, a snack area, and a large mural by David Leonardas.  The shaded arches lead to galleries, classroom, and administrative offices.

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The art school  was one of the main drivers for the expat explosion.  A 1948 Life magazine article informed those contemplating studying with GI Bill benefits that this quaint town offered rents for $10 per month (with maids for $8 per month).  Rum at 65 cents per quart was the kicker.  Over 6000 former servicemen immediately applied for admission to a school with then about 40 students.  San Miguel at that time was all of 10,000 people.  Affordable Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion -- a perfect place for a budding artists on a budget!  The need for larger quarters to support this growth led to the old Canal estate.  The barefoot eventually got their place.  Today the Instituto has about 1300 students.

The Leonardas Mural

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David Leonardas's 1999 mural is entitled "Ignacio Allende and the History of Mexico."  It's more representational  than the unfinished mural painted by the better known David Alfaro Siqueiros in the nearby Nigromonte center.  We see General Allende at center, blue coated on his white steed.

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The Aztec here seems rather unafraid of the conquistador's dagger.  There were only 600 conquistadors -- but they brought with them good weapons such as smallpox,  Bubonic plague, measles, and syphilis that wiped out half the native population.  (Viral marketing at its worst)

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Above: a less colorful  wall hanging.

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The Instituto has rental space for parties such as the plaza above which provides views of the centro area such as that seen below.


James Pinto Murals

James Pinto was another artist that had a tremendous influence on San Miguel.  Pinto was born in Yugoslavia and came to live and work in the United States. While in the US, he worked for Walt Disney Studios. He and his wife, Rushka, moved to San Miguel in 1948.  He taught painting at the Bellas Artes and later at the Instituto Allende where he became Head of the Art Department from 1961 - 1969 and Dean from 1969 - 1979 .

 Pinto Murals - '51

 Instituto Allende

 La Aurora - Zinser

La Fábrica La Aurora: Art and Design Center


On the morning of March 11th, 1991, when the whistle announcing the start of a new work day sounded for the last time, nobody would have been able to imagine what the 21st century had in store for this textile factory.

(1902 – 1991)

Before its renaissance as an art and design center, Negociacion Fabril de la Aurora, known as La Aurora, was a leading manufacturer of premium cotton "manta" and textiles for almost a century. The construction of the factory was completed in 1902 and is typical of textile plants in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Its façade, with twelve stone-carved arches and the impressive wrought iron gates that open onto a gracious patio, offers a sharp contrast to the functional design of the interior spaces.
As a working factory, La Aurora was equipped with cylinders, spindles, and looms to process the bales of raw cotton that arrived from the areas of La Laguna in the center part of Mexico and from the states of Sinaloa and Sonora. The process of cleaning, ginning, carding, and spinning the raw fiber into a yarn or thread was all done on the premises. The final product manta, unbleached muslin woven from the thread, was sold throughout Mexico. Some special grades of thread were spun specifically for use in the making of "rebozos". By the 1970's, production also included heavy canvas used in making tennis shoes.

fabrica la aurora
The pipe that brought water from the resevoir to power the hydrolic turbines of the factory.

The first looms and spindles were imported from England in the early 20th century. By the mid-l950's, most of the English machinery was replaced with later models from Germany and Switzerland. Being able to maintain this imported machinery was essential to production. La Aurora had an on-site forge, a mechanics shop, and a carpentry shop. In addition, there were storage spaces filled from floor to ceiling with replacement parts.

Generations of San Miguelenses have worked in the factory since 1932. At the time of its closing, La Aurora was the largest employer in San Miguel with a work force of over 300, and it had become an integral part of the daily lives of its workers and the San Miguel community. Sports, music, and participation in local celebrations were all a part of the Aurora trademark. For many years, San Miguel families would arrive to the factory grounds on Sunday with their picnic lunches to listen to the Aurora band that was set up under a kiosk in the garden. The Aurora also sponsored a soccer team and a baseball team. In addition, there were many observances of San Miguel traditions such as the Mass on December 12 to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe. An altar was arranged inside the factory, and a local priest came to deliver the Mass.

La Aurora also set tradition. The "Alborada" which celebrates the patron saint of San Miguel was instituted by the factory workers. On the designated September weekend, a special band of musicians contracted by the workers arrived by train. A cannon made in the factory forge especially for this event was loaded onto a wagon and prepared to fire. Then, in the predawn hours, the procession of workers and their families carrying the image of the patron saint was accompanied by the musicians and the Aurora cannon from La Colonia Aurora to the Parroquia. The "Alborada" has changed in many aspects today, but the procession marking the beginning of the feast day celebration still departs from the oldest neighborhood in the city, La Colonia Aurora.

Free trade agreements brought many changes to the Mexican textile industry and La Aurora was not an exception. Cotton imports began flooding the market and domestic production was greatly affected. As a result, the steam generated whistle which signaled the start and finish of each shift and was a notable sound in San Miguel for almost 90 years blew for the last time on March 11, l991.

La Aurora Today

In 2001, the owners of the Aurora decided to allow imagination to fuel the rebirth of this old historical building as a project at the vanguard.


Among old textile machines and hydrolic turbines, the large warehouses that housed spinning machines, cotton and maintenance equipment have been transformed into galleries with contemporary art, furniture and interior design stores, antiques and jewelry, linens and accessories, restaurants, and working artist studios.


Here, globally recognized artists have found a place to develop their creativity and exhibit their works. Large walls, plenty of natural light, and inviting open spaces create the perfect environment for artistic inspiration. 

Goodbye For Now

1 comment:

  1. It was nice to find this information about San Miguel and Antonio Vega. I had went there to study the summer of 1994 I think, and met Antonio. I would love to visit again, now I have my Masters in art. The instituto and Antonio's teaching are still with me as I teach students in high school here in Jackson Mississippi. I had purchased a print of his when I was there and would like another. James Jackson