Book Report

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art, by Katherine Tyler Burchwood. 1971. 159 pages. $12.95.

This book was a discovery. I am always fascinated by writings about art and how it evolves in different countries and cultures. The book traces the history of Mexican art through time, from the Olmec stone heads and Pre-Columbian sculptures, to the works of twentieth century artists.

The 128 photos (with a few color plates) are helpful, and the three sections on the famous muralists (Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozoco, and David Afaro Siqueiros) towards the back of the book are excellent, giving many examples and much commentary on the unique individual styles of each of these artists. The author also offers glimpses of the culture and political climate, and tells us what was happening in Mexico at the time the art was done.

Examples of the origin of Mexican art, given by the author, also include photos and descriptions of Mexico's dramatic architecture; the many ornate churches (particularly in Pueblo and Cholula), monasteries, mansions (like 'the house of tiles'), temples, pyramids, and ancient ruins. These examples all reflect the beauty and mystery that is so much a part of Mexico's history and traditions. She also shares ways that Mexico's love of nature, art, and beauty have helped its people cope with the country's history of, invasions, and hardships.

The pages on the very early art of the ancient civilizations include the Oltecs, Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mixtec, Toltec, and Aztec; history that always interests me. And then, of course, we must read about the conquest, and how Mexican art began to change and reflect the influences of both cultures; Spanish and the Native cultures. Later, even French, African, and American influences were added.

Parts of this book also seemed to me to echo traditional Mexican women's roles, which were still present even in the 1970s. Almost all of the artists showcased in this book are men. Even the examples of early head sculptures were not only done by men, they are also sculptures of men. Only at the very back of this book (chapter 12, Modern Art, pages 128-141), are women even mentioned as artists - and even then it is on only a page and a half of shared space text - with scant information about Maria Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo, and examples of their self portraits. There were other great twentieth century women artists who were ignored, like Remedios Varo, a surrealist, and Julia Lopez, with her 1958 painting of "The Creation of Birds.” These artists are not included or even mentioned at all.

I think of our strong artist's groups here in Baja (with both sexes included), and decided that times have really changed in Mexico for the girls and women who love art.

That said, I found this book an interesting read, and a good source of information about male Mexican artists. It is almost a coffee table sized book, but most of the photographs are only done in black and white.

You can find The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art, at El Caballo Blanco bookstore in Loreto, and on, for a very reasonable price.

If you read it, I would love your opinion on this book. Email me at