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Edward James, Las Pozas

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About the Artist/Site

Edward James, a British-born poet and artist, moved in the rarefied artistic and intellectual circles of Europe and the U.S.  His family, owners of a 6000-acre estate dominated by a 300-room mansion, provided him with immense wealth and privilege; however, while he later took advantage of the mansion to create West Dean College, now a renowned center for crafts and restoration arts, he turned his back on the English aristocracy as he befriended and supported numerous artists of that time, becoming a major collector of surrealist art and cohort to many of the most important names in Europe’s surrealist movement. Ultimately tiring of the high-caste bohemian life, and burned by a high-profile divorce, he moved to the lush subtropical forest of Xilitla in 1947. Inspired by the surrealists’ artistic productions but also by their emphasis on the use of dreams and the subconscious, he determined to create an extraordinary home with equally extraordinary exterior sculpture garden on the twenty+ hectare (60+ acre) grounds of a former coffee plantation.

First, however, he spent years studying local horticulture, raising exotic plants and flowers. When a freak 1962 blizzard destroyed his collection of orchids, however, he decided to use concrete to create a compendium of both abstract and floral forms, to ensure that the gardens would never again be killed off by natural forces. Designing it along with his friend Plutarco Gastélum, a local Yaqui Indian who would later become the construction manager for the elaborate project, at its height the construction of this “Surrealist Xanadu” employed some 150 local builders and gardeners. Millions of dollars were spent on the project, some of which came from the sale of objects from his art collection, with James becoming increasingly involved during the 1960s and 1970s. Monumental floral forms merged into arches and columns, interplaying with the indigenous vegetation and following the topography of the land. Animal and reptile forms, terraces, a bathtub in the shape of an eyeball, stairs that lead nowhere along labyrinthine paths lined with heads and hands – all partially being overtaken by the jungle – lend the property a mysterious and enigmatic air. The intent was not to teach, but to create a place for discovery and for the imagination.

At the time of James’s death in 1984 during a trip to Italy, 36 concrete sculptures had been completed, and the site had become renowned among bohemian artists, writers, and intrepid travelers. As he had not provided for upkeep in his will, the Gastélum family took over the property and ran it until 2007, when Fondo Xilitla purchased it for a reported $2.2 million, with the intention of maintaining the house and gardens as a nonprofit corporation.

Las Pozas is open all year 9 am – 6 pm. Guided 75 minute-long tours of are available in Spanish or, for slightly higher price, in English and French. A craft shop on the premises, open every day but Wednesdays, provides the opportunity to purchase high-quality local artisanal products.

~Jo Farb Hernández





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Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Xilitla, San Luis Potosi, Mexico
Latitude/Longitude: 21.384172 / -98.992175

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