Exploring Colonial Mexico©
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Edited by Judith Hancock Sandoval; foreword by Mary E. Miller; introduction by Diane Hinshaw Halasz. San Diego, Sunbelt Publications. Illus., index. xix + 235 pp. $39.95 hardcover.
(NOTE. This review is being published in the forthcoming issue of Revista. the Southwestern Mission Research Center (SMRC) magazine. ©2005 by Bernard Fontana. Reproduced here by gracious permission of Dr. Fontana)
"Longtime members of the SMRC should be familiar with the names of Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen. Up to the time of their deaths, they were supporters of the SMRC both in spirit and financially, having been among our all-time most generous donors.
In 1979, the SMRC published an expanded version of a talk given by Pál at the Arizona State Museum in May of that year: Stepchild of the Humanities: Art of the Americas, as Observed in Five Decades. The demand for it was such that this 36-page booklet went into two printings, each with a different handsome paper cover. Two years later I compiled, and we published, "The Written Works of Pál Kelemen: A Bibliography," an 8-page insert in Vol. 15, no. 48 of the SMRC-Newsletter (March, 1981). This was followed in September, 1991 (Vol. 25, no. 88) by Pál's wonderful illustrated account of a trip taken by him and Elisabeth with George Eckhart to Mission San Luis Gonzaga de Bacadéhuachi in the Sierra Madre of northeastern Sonora. When Pál died in 1993 at the age of 98, we published an obituary (Vol. 27, no. 95); and when Elisabeth followed him in death in 1997, also at the age of 98, we published an obituary for her as well (Vol. 31, no. 112).
When Pál and Elisabeth died, they were working on their memoirs, including those of Pál in Europe as a young man and of the two of them after their marriage in 1932. They were doing this through dictation; they had transcribed, hand-written notes, and with the help of years of correspondence they had saved. The task was never completed, although they left behind an incredible wealth of material as well as a bequest in their will to provide for its compilation and publication.
Ultimately, the responsibility fell on the capable shoulders of Diane Hinshaw Halasz, the widow of Pál's great nephew near whom they lived in La Jolla, California, in the last years of their lives. Diane hired Judith Hancock Sandoval, a friend of the Kelemens and well-known photographer of Mexican colonial art and architecture, to bring order out of chaos. Looking at all the material, the decision was soon made to forego the Old World material, exciting as it is, and to narrow the memoir's focus to the Kelemens' adventures and discoveries in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. It was further agreed that Elisabeth, a fine photographer and superb writer who had always placed herself in her husband's shadow, should at last be given much-deserved equal credit.
The result of all this is the present stunning and eminently readable volume, one further enhanced by a balanced foreword by art historian Mary Miller, by Sandoval's editor's notes, and by an affectionate introduction that includes informed personal insights from Diane Halasz about her husband's great aunt and uncle. There are 116 black-and-white photos in the book, nearly all of them taken by Elisabeth, and the volume has been handsomely designed and beautifully printed on fine paper in Bembo, a typeface that originated in Venice, Italy, and that was first used in 1495. The Kelemens would have loved this hardbound version of their memoirs, a testimony to the continued fine quality of printing by Sunbelt Publications.
What the reader will find here are remembrances of travels in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, the Yucatán, Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Toluca, Tula, Taxco, Tepotzlán, Tlaxcala, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Morelia, Pátzcuaro, Sonora, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Their expert eyes were ever on the lookout for pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art and architecture, and their minds and hearts were ever open to the various cultural milieu in which they found themselves whether Indians or ambassadors. And while they always traveled in the best style possible, in the '30s and '40s in many of these places travel was ever an iffy adventure.
Of most immediate, and provincial, interest to SMRCers will be the book's final two chapters, "Mexico, 1963: Northern Mexico by Taxi," and, "Mexico, 1964: Sonora With George Eckhart." Included here with their entertaining account are a few of Elisabeth's photos of missions at Caborca, Tubutama (mislabeled "Nogales"), Tepupa, Bacadéhuachi, Arizpe, and Cocóspera. Given the unfamiliarity with the region of the book's compilers, one needs to overlook such mistakes as "Río Saliora" for "Río Sonora."
The Kelemens became acquainted with nearly all the "greats" in the study of the prehistory of the Southwest and Mesoamerica and in the study of Spanish colonial art and architecture: Wendell Bennett, Ignacio Bernal, Hermann Beyer, Frans Blom, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Vannenar Bush, Alfonso Caso, Francisco de la Maza, Edwin Ferdon, Justino Fernández, Lewis Hanke, Edgar Lee Hewitt, Alfred Kidder, George Kubler, Elizabeth Wilder Weismann, John McAndrews, Sylvanus Morley, Earl Morris, Eduardo Noguera, Martín Soria, Doris Stone, Robert Smith, Eric Thompson, Robert Wauchope, Robert Weitlander, and Manuel Toussaint to name a few.
The Kelemen Journals is for SMRCers, armchair travelers, and all who have an interest in the cultural heritage of Latin America. We owe Diane Halasz and Judith Hancock Sandoval our everlasting gratitude for doing such honor to the Kelemens to the benefit of each of us."