My tastes in art are as eclectic as those in music. I like what takes my fancy. And that makes me somewhat of a impulsive buyer.
Over almost three decades of living overseas – in South and Central America, and in the Philippines – and having also the opportunity of visiting many countries throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia, I have been able to pick up the odd piece of art (and jewelry for Steph), and a range of handicrafts.
Anyone visiting our home in the UK can expect to see works of art and handicraft ranging from painting, to sculptures, batik, and gourd carvings among others.
Taking center stage in our living room (over the mantelpiece) is an oil painting that I purchased at the weekly art fair in the JF Kennedy Park in Miraflores, Lima. It must have been January or February 1996 or so. I was in Lima for a genetic resources meeting among the centers of the CGIAR. On one Sunday morning we all decided to go down to Miraflores (from La Molina where we were staying at the headquarters of the International Potato Center – CIP). It was a bright, sunny day and many local artists were displaying their works along the various paths in the park. I had purchased a painting there in the late 1970s when I was working for CIP in Costa Rica, and was back in Lima for a visit.
Well, I saw this particular painting, and immediately the whole scene just caught my attention. I’d seen that scene (or something like it) many times – parents and two children – when I’d been out and about collecting potatoes in the province of Cajamarca in northern Peru in 1974. The people of Cajamarca wear these beautiful reddish brown ponchos, and tall straw hats. And so this painting just resonated with me. Since I spoke Spanish I decided to haggle with the artist – he wanted about $175, but I was prepared to pay only $100. He wouldn’t accept that, so I walked on. On my next circuit, he’d dropped the price to $150, but still I wasn’t interested. As I walked round the park again, I took a crisp $100 bill from my wallet, ready to discuss with him again. I told him I had a $100 bill ready to hand over if he’d sell me the painting. The vision of cash in hand was too much for him, and so I was able to purchase this painting for $100 – a bargain. The painting is signed, but I’m not able to read it easily. I’ve tried to see if there are artists with a similar name in Peru, but haven’t had any luck yet. No matter. I like the painting, and it never ceases to bring me pleasure each day.
On a visit to Beijing, in about 1995, I picked up a couple of water colors of birds. They may not be of the highest quality, but they are quite good nevertheless.
Among the many Peruvian handicraft items we have are several carved gourds, known as mates burilados in Spanish. Many are made in the Mantaro Valley in Central Peru. The International Potato Center has its highland field station there (at over 3000 m) near Huancayo. My good friend Jim Bryan had good connections with one of the finest of the gourd carvers, and we purchased a number of excellent mates from him. Those on sale in the handicraft markets in Lima are quite nice but nowhere near the quality.
In the late 1970s, when I was in Costa Rica, I attended a Organization of American States meeting on agriculture in the Caribbean in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I was able to pick up a couple of nice carvings, one of a farmer, the other of a beggar.
The one on the left, standing about 80 cm, is carved from a single piece of wood. Despite having it carefully packed, and getting it back in one piece to San José, I knocked it over while waiting for my ride back down to Turrialba (and stepping off the curb and damaging a tendon in my foot, that had to be kept in plaster for almost six weeks), and it split between the hand and the pineapple fruit. The carving of the beggar (on the right) is about half the size of the farmer.
When I retired from IRRI in 2010, I was given a carving of a rice farmer as a leaving present. IRRI had been presenting these to retiring members of the Board of Trustees, and I’d thought that one of these carvings would make an excellent leaving present. And that’s what I suggested when asked if I had any ideas. Imagine my surprise at the despedida (actually the celebration dinner for IRRI’s 50th anniversary) when IRRI Director General Bob Zeigler presented me with one of the larger versions of the carving – normally they were about half this size – signed by the artist, Bernard Vista.
Bernard Vista comes from Pakil, on the east side of the Laguna de Bay, perhaps 35 km from Los Baños (at the bottom of the lake on this map). and has a studio (and cafe) there. Pakil and Paete are sister towns famous for their wood carvings
Another treasured possession – but not one I collected myself – is a glass-covered tray made of butterfly wings, encased in a mahogany frame.
My father bought that in Rio de Janeiro in the mid-1930s when he worked for the White Star Line as ship’s photographer. It was on my parents’ wall for decades, and after they died, I inherited it. It takes pride of place (above the rice farmer) in an alcove just inside our front door.