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U.S. Mexican Folk Art Groups attract collectors, aficionados and patrons

by Merry Wheaton

All around the U.S. people interested in Mexican arts are joining or forming associations of like-minded individuals, and there's pretty much something for everyone whether your interest is pre-hispanic, colonial, post-colonial, contemporary or folk art. These organizations are of two distinct types: independent groups of collectors and aficionados, which primarily aim to help members expand their knowledge and build their collections, and groups of art patrons, whose purpose is to support a museum.
The independent groups typically host speakers, travel to museums or art-producing areas in the U.S. and abroad, and organize social and cultural events for members, such as Day of the Dead activities and home tours. The energetic Mexican Folk Art Society of Houston (MFASH), founded in 2001 by Cathey and Ron Merrill and a few other people deeply interested in Mexican folk art, did all those things right out of the box and recruited more than 100 members by its first birthday. Even larger now, the group is achieving its stated mission, which is "to facilitate appreciation and enjoyment of the bountiful creativity of Mexican folk art (art by artists whose sources of inspiration are derived from their own experience, often through community traditions and craft forms) and to increase public awareness."
MFASH's provides programs on Mexican folk art topics quarterly, and encourages collecting Mexican folk art through awareness of local gallery and retail sources. Like many of the private groups, they are also creating a bank of local and distant Mexican folk art sources, events and exhibitions, which they share with others interested in Mexico and its folk art.
Current president Cathey Merrill comments, "The groups that are affiliated with museums need to raise a lot of money, and that can create a lot of pressure," addressing the groups distinct purposes.
An older independent group, Los Amigos del Arte Popular, began in 1996 as an informal association of eight friends in Cathedral City, California, and now draws its directors and 200 or so members from around the country. President Ron McCauley says the group is aggressively working to increase membership and to ally itself with other groups. They hope to become a national organization with a convention by 2003. "We are hard-core collectors. We take four trips a year and really focus on educating our members and sharing information," he says. To that end, the group has a website containing numerous articles, including well-researched pieces on Mexican bas relief carvings and Modesta Fernández Mata (a Metepec ceramist) and interviews of Doña Marta (a painter of Chiapanecan lacquered gourds) and of Don Gabriel Olay Olay (known for his straw mosaics). It also has many useful links to exhibitions and related organizations.
Some organizations, among them the Friends of Latin American Art of the San Antonio Museum of Art and the newly formed Latin American Art Patrons of the Tucson Museum of Art, are official arms of the museum. While these groups may include collectors and aficionados who enjoy getting to know each other through group activities, the groups exist to support the museums endowments, programs, and acquisitions through fund-raising events.

Independent Groups
Austin Friends of Folk Art:
Since 1986 AFFA has worked to promote folk art and to support and sustain the traditional cultures that produce it around the world. Activities include a Day of the Dead event, annual Christmas and membership parties, trips to museum collections, home tours, and programs featuring visiting artists and speakers. Some activities occur in conjunction with Austin's Mexic-Arte Museum and with local import stores.
Contact: Barbara Jackson, 5003 Ridge Oak Dr., Austin, TX 7873 Tel. (512) 467-2272 email:
Friends of Mexican Art:
This Scottsdale, Arizona group is made up primarily of arts patrons, and while it has no museum affiliation, it does actively support the Phoenix Art Museum, the Scottsdale Center for the Arts and the art museum of Arizona State University. It also works to promote Mexican arts and cultures, organizes member trips to Mexico and hosts speakers, primarily on topics of colonial and contemporary Mexican art.
Contact: Steve Daviss, 5850 N. 37th St. Scottsdale, AZ 85253 Tel. (602) 954-6981 email:
Los Amigos del Arte Popular:
This energetic group of 200 or so from across the U.S. organizes four annual trips, hosts speakers and activities, and welcomes the submission of Latin American art-related articles for posting on its new and informative website. Most members are avid collectors and education is one of the groups major goals.
Contact: or contact: Sandy Laney, 3422 Montrose Ave., La Crescenta, CA 91214 email:

Mexican Folk Art Society of Houston:
This young and dynamic group formed in 2001 to facilitate the enjoyment and acquisition of Mexican folk art through quarterly programs, travel and the compilation of a bank of Mexican folk art sources, events and exhibitions. Associating with others who share their interests is one of the group's goals. Check out their website!
Contact: Cathey Merrill, P.O. Box 77117, Houston, TX 77215 Tel. (713) 270-0803 email: Web: http://www
The Mexican Society of Philadelphia:
Founded in 1970 to foster cultural ties between Mexico and Philadelphia, the group holds six or seven events plus a trip annually. Activities focus on art, archaeology, business, crafts, cultural exchange and travel. Programs have ranged from Mexican econometric models to unique traditions of the Huichol Indians.
Contact: The Mexican Society of Philadelphia, P.O. Box 67, Haverford, PA 19041-0067 Tel. (610) 645-9460 email:
Museum-affiliated Groups
Members of Mexic-Arte, Mexic-Arte Museum:
Founded in 1983, this museum in downtown Austin, Texas, is dedicated to cultural enrichment and education through the presentation and promotion of traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art and culture. With several different levels of membership, the museum has 300 members who support its programs and changing exhibits. Fundraising events include the Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead Parade and Celebration, Noche de Fiesta Navideña/Night of Christmas Celebration, and Taste of Mexico.
Contact: Mexic-Arte Museum, P.O. Box 2273, Austin, TX 78701 Tel. (512) 480-9373 (click on "Join") email:
Friends/Amigos, El Museo del Barrio:
Founded in 1969 to showcase Puerto Rican art and culture, El Museo del Barrio is now New York's leading Latino cultural institution, having expanded its mission to represent the diversity of art of all Latinos and Latin Americans. The support of museum members (vecinos, amigos and others) helps fund lively lectures, gallery talks and art-making workshops and helps maintain and expand the museums varied, 8,000-object collection.
Contact: El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th St., New York City, NY 10029 Tel. (212) 831-7272 email: Web: (Click on "Support El Museo")
Friends of Latin American Art, San Antonio Museum of Art:
Become a member of SAMA and you can join this group as a friend or connoisseur. Group exists to support the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art through education, travel opportunities, volunteer participation and special events. The major fundraiser, Bazar Sábado, is held annually in mid-December.
Contact: San Antonio Museum of Art, 200 West Jones Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78215 Museum info: (210) 978-8100 Membership: (210) 978-8133
Friends of the Permanent Collection, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum:
Special notices of museum activities go to this informal group of fewer than 50 supporters who have helped the museum triple the size of its collection in the last two years. A Day of the Dead exhibition is the major fundraiser.
Contact: Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, 1852 W. 19th St., Chicago, IL 60608 Membership: (312) 738-1503 Ext. 109
Hispanic Culture Foundation, National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico:
The Hispanic Culture Foundation was formed in the 1980s to preserve New Mexico's traditional arts and cultures, then expanded to embrace Hispanic arts in general. It helps support the visual and performing art, research and education programs and facilities of the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico, an Albuquerque institution that has ties with Mexico and Spain.
Contact: Katherine Archuleta, Director, National Culture Foundation, 701 4th St., S.W., Albuquerque, NM 87102 Tel. (505) 766-9858
Latin American Art Patrons, Tucson Museum of Art:
Founded in Spring 2002, LAAP has more than 150 members all museum members first. The group exists to support the museum's new Palice Pavilion/Stevens House, home to collections of pre-hispanic, Spanish colonial, post-colonial and folk art of Latin America. LAAP's first major fundraiser, Bazar Domingo, drew 32 high-quality antique traders in November 2002; the event will be held again in March 2004.
Contact: Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave., Tucson, AZ 85701 Tel. (520) 624-2333 or LAPP founder and president, Donna McMenamin
The Spanish Colonial Arts Society, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art:
In 1925, writer Mary Austin and artist-writer Frank G. Applegate, formed this Society to preserve and perpetuate the Hispano art forms produced in New Mexico and southern Colorado since the region was colonized by Spain in 1598. The Society collected both regional art and comparative Spanish colonial pieces, and in July 2002, its dream of a museum became a reality. The Society helps support the museum, holds an annual Spanish Market, and sponsors a range of outreach programs.
Contact: Spanish Colonial Arts Society, P.O. Box 5378, Santa Fe, NM 87502-5378 Tel. (505) 982-2226 email: Web: