Edward James, born in England in 1907—the same year as the well-known artist Frida Kahlo and the not-so-well known but marvelously talented Annette Nancarrow (see sidebar about my book in progress)—grew up the only son among five children and inherited considerable wealth upon his father’s death. He attended fine private schools, including Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh, and is best known as a passionate and early supporter of Surrealism. In 1938, he sponsored Salvador Dali for a year and René Magritte stayed in his London house to paint. His personal collection of paintings and art objects subsequently became one of the finest in private hands and he appears in one of Dali’s paintings and two of Magritte’s, and sculptor Isamu Noguchi created an early marble portrait of him. His collection included works by Hieronymus Bosch, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Klee, Leonora Carrington, Pavel Tchelitchew, Pablo Picasso, Giacometti, Max Ernst, and Paul Delvaux, among others.
In 1940 James visited Taos, NM, as a guest of Mabel Dodge Luhan, where he was known for his amusing, clever eccentricity. But his most idiosyncratic personal adventure—Las Pozas—was to begin a few years later, when he chose Mexico as the ideal place to create his vision of “a Garden of Eden.”
Las Pozas lies outside the small village of Xilitla at about 2,000 feet above sea level.
It originally comprised more than 80 acres, but now consists of about 20 acres of towering surrealist concrete sculptures amidst a landscape of natural waterfalls, clouds of butterflies, and cool, clear pools. Between 1949 and 1984, James built 36 concrete structures, including the House on Three Floors Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six, the House with a Roof Like a Whale, and the Staircase to Heaven. Thousands of tropical plants, including orchids (of which, it has been reported, there were 29,000 at one time) were planted and a wide variety of small homes built, plus pens that held hundreds of exotic birds and wild animals from around the world. The compound’s massive sculptures, some up to four stories tall, and winding trails, stairways, ramps, bridges, and narrow walkways crisscross the site. Construction of Las Pozas is rumored to have cost more than $5 million and was financed by the sale at Christie’s of James’s Surrealist art collection. Through the years, he entertained many of the art world’s famous in his remote jungle home.
EDWARD JAMES was a man with a taste for the bizarre, the imaginative, the far reaches of civilization, and he had the resources to explore them. He did things his way and, in his eccentric way, created a world for us to explore and a life to remember.
-- Rosemary Carstens
Avery Danziger’s one-hour, award-winning documentary, EDWARD JAMES: Builder of Dreams, is a wonderful introduction to the man, his many amazing friendships in the art world, and the creation of his lifetime, Las Pozas. It’s available on Amazon and also from numerous other venues. Just google “Avery Danziger and Edward James documentary” for other sources.
For a taste of Las Pozas and the film, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA0HUAIvcHo
NOTE: I visited Las Pozas a few years back on a solo adventure of my own and recommend it and the region. It’s a chance to see some unspoiled “old Mexico.” This part of the country, the Huasteca Potosino, is rich in cultural and scenic attractions, including a remarkable vast cave visited daily by a flock of green parakeets, mountains, waterfalls, and traditional villages with special market days. For me, a girl who grew up in Southern California visiting beautiful missions built by Franciscan friar Junipero Serra, a highlight of my visit was seeing several of the first five small missions he built there in the years following 1750. These five, constructed in a baroque style that blends Spanish and Indian cultures, are like architectural jewels holding within them a historic past. Four of them, in the respective towns of Tancoyol, Tilaco, Landa de Matamoros, and Jalpan, are strung out along or near Highway 120 in the state of Queretaro. The fifth, located in Conca, is reached by turning off in Jalpan onto Highway 69, which is the way to Río Verde. For more information about the missions and other treasures of the region: http://www.xilitla.org/gettingthere.php