Mexico’s ‘lost’ city

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iol travel april 7 Sierra Madre AP One eccentric British millionaire decided the lush Sierra Madre hillside was the perfect setting for his selection of surreal sculptures.

Mexico City - The Mexican jungle is certainly not the first place you would look for art. But one eccentric British millionaire decided the lush Sierra Madre hillside was the perfect setting for his selection of surreal sculptures.

The late Edward James, a wealthy arts patron, created the unusual Las Pozas park “as a joke to a future generation” and filled it with quirky sculptures that look unfinished.

Spiral staircases lead nowhere and ornate concrete structures look like undiscovered ruins from a past civilisation.

“Mr Edward wanted to bewilder,” said Carlos Barbosa, a park guide.

Set on a 40-hectare hillside where the Sierra Madre mountains meet the coastal plains of the northeast state of San Luis Potosi, the jungle has steadily encroached on the sculpture park.

But that didn’t bother James, who liked to think future archaeologists would discover his lost city and wonder what kind of civilisation had built it, Barbosa said.

The son of British aristocrats and grandson of a Canadian timber baron, James first went to Mexico in 1944 at the invitation of psychiatrist Erich Fromm. He joined a salon of intellectuals and artists at Cuernavaca, the resort city just southeast of Mexico City.

He inherited a fortune from his father and used the money to support the work of great surrealists, including Dali.

“I had seen videos and documents, but I didn’t expect it to be so impressive,” said Vida Arellano, a tourist from the northern state of Chihuahua. “Once you are here, you are enveloped by nature, the sculptures, the architecture. It transports you to a different mental state.”

Las Pozas means “The Pools” and James spent 20 years of his life building the garden, but it was still only half-built by the time he died 30 years ago.

The original project, interestingly, had nothing to do with the garden’s ultimate design.

For years, James cultivated thousands of orchids on his land, but in 1962, a cold snap destroyed them. James then ordered workers to build cement flowers that weather couldn’t destroy, Linan said.

James’s imagination didn’t stop with the flowers. He began to design increasingly complex sculptures, often inspired by artistic philosophies he encountered in his travels. He would sketch his sculptures on postcards and mail them to Gastelum. Barbosa remembered with amusement James’s many eccentricities, including the time he asked a cook to make a banquet for a menagerie of exotic animals he kept and loved like his children.

James “used to walk naked through the park and even though he was a millionaire, he often slept in a sleeping bag among the weeds”, Barbosa said.

But James didn’t die in his precious park. He died in 1984 in San Remo, Italy, when a stroke put an end to his delirious project.

Since he didn’t leave any sketches for future sculptures, construction halted and the jungle began to take over, Linan said.

In 1990, the park opened to the public and now it draws 75 000 curious visitors each year. – Daily Mail

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