A Travellerspoint blog

An incredible woman and her collection...

Ruth Lechuga

Tucked away in the leafy, bohemian residential area of Condesa awaits a surprise. Nothing outside prepares you for what's inside. We go through the front door of a once-fashionable 1920’s apartment building, climb up to the second floor and rap at the door with the animal-shaped knocker. It could be your aunt's life-long apartment but it isn't. It belonged to Ruth Lechuga and we are about to find out who this amazing lady was.

The door opens and I stifle a gasp. There's no "auntie" smell of perfume and bath salts, of recent cooking or baking. Instead, it's a faint smell of the past, of items stored for years. As we go through the doorway, we step straight into an Aladdin’s Cave of Mexican folk art. The walls sag under the weight of hundreds of dance masks which Ruth collected throughout her life. Room after room is crammed full of furniture, showcases with nacimientos (nativity scenes), árboles de vida (trees of life), dolls, lacquerware, textiles, basketware and ceramics. We are immersed in the essence of Mexico’s indigenous people, surrounded by native craft traditions.

IMG_9130.jpg
An Aladdin's Cave of Mexican folk art

3IMG_9144.jpg
An ornamental gourd with a carved bird on top

IMG_9097.jpg
Ceramic pots hanging up

Our guide around the house, Marta Turok, is herself an exceptional woman – among other things, an anthropologist, a Mexican folk art and textile expert and writer. She knew Ruth Lechuga personally and is the curator of the house-museum, taking care of Ruth’s invaluable legacy. Her lively, interesting explanations bring Ruth and her collection to life.

9IMG_9308.jpg
Marta Turok guiding us around the house

3IMG_9106.jpg
Items made by indigenous people

1IMG_9172.jpg
Typical Huichol artwork

Ruth Lechuga (1920-2004) was born in Vienna, but when the Nazis invaded Austria, she came to live in Mexico in 1939, at the age of 19. She was immediately captivated by the Mexican people, the colours, the traditions, the climate, the coasts and the jungles and decided to make this her permanent home. Her father’s passion was archaeology and Ruth used to accompany him on his visits to different sites, where she was much more fascinated by the local markets and traditional life. During these visits, she would buy something, a small souvenir, and bring it home. Decades later, her collection has swollen to 10,000 items, gradually colonising and taking over the intimate space of these three apartments.

6IMG_9143.jpg
Inside the apartment

9IMG_9102.jpg
Some of the dance masks

IMG_9068.jpg
Animal masks

IMG_9074.jpg
The jaguar is a recurring theme


Although she studied Medicine, her real passion was for Mexican folk art. In 1950 she married Carl Lechuga and together they travelled far and wide, often by mule or in small planes, to reach the more isolated indigenous communities. A gifted photographer, she also built up an outstanding collection of 20,000 photographs, creating an important anthropological archive dedicated to the daily life and sacred ceremonies in Mexico.

6IMG_9273.jpg
Some of Ruth's photographs

IMG_9053.jpg
Masks

7IMG_9154.jpg
Figures hanging up

38IMG_9100.jpg
Ceramics and masks

Her special interest in máscaras, dance masks, led her to find out more about the traditions and each item of her collection, whether masks or ceramics or textiles, was bought after meeting the artisano, finding out the story behind it and its purpose and the materials with which it was made. Not only that, she meticulously catalogued most of them, building up an invaluable legacy for us today. As we follow Marta through the apartments, the lights go on in room after room, revealing different aspects of Ruth’s collection. We learn about the multi-coloured artifacts and traditions of the tarahumaras, coras, huicholes, mayas, tlaxcaltecas or purepechas.

8IMG_9145.jpg
Art on a gourd

5IMG_9177.jpg
Huichol dress

3IMG_9246.jpg
Ceramic Tree of Life

IMG_9281.jpg
Basketware

The final surprise comes after passing through a small corridor choked with a jungle of basketware and we emerge suddenly into Ruth’s bedroom. Sprouting from the bright pink walls are dozens of white calaveras (skulls), skeletons and other Day of the Dead items. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea for decorating their bedroom but entirely in keeping with this pioneering woman’s passion and way of life.

1IMG_9295.jpg
Pink and white bedroom

4IMG_9290.jpg
Skulls and skeletons

0IMG_9303.jpg
Ruth's bed

5IMG_9298.jpg
Bedside photos of Ruth Lechuga

(Note: Marta Turok kindly gave me permission to publish these photos in my blog provided I put a visible watermark on them. Thank you, Marta.)

Posted by margaretm 04:21 Archived in Mexico Tagged museums mexico city crafts

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint