The Man with a Dream
Welcome to Xilitla, a small town hidden in the central state of San Luis Potosi in Mexico, nestled in the Sierra Madre Mountains at exactly 676 meters (2,218 ft.) above sea level. Because of its location, Xilitla’s climate is considered tropical, with very hot and humid temperatures. The combination of altitude and location might make some travelers uncomfortable, but the experiences that await in Xilitla are very well worth the physical discomforts.
Xilitla is well known to the art community as well as to cultural tourism visitors thanks to the works of Edward James, English artist and patron of the arts. English travelers in particular are very familiar with Edward James and travel to this remote location to experience the beauty of Las Pozas. Las Pozas, Spanish name for “The Wells,” is a garden designed and created by Edward James who was captivated by the natural beauty of the Huastec region. It is said that this region was once full of waterfalls and streams and possessed a variety of exotic plants and this is what led Edwards to his inspiration for Las Pozas.
Las Pozas is currently listed for consideration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Secretariat of Tourism in Mexico SECTUR has also recognized this town as Pueblo Mágico or Magic Town as part of a conservation and preservation project initiated by the Mexican government in 2001 to recognize places in Mexico for their historic and unique cultural significance.
There are 36 surrealist inspired concrete sculptures in Las Pozas. Some visitors comment at the fact that the structures look like they are “hardly finished” and many people who are unfamiliar with Surrealism make the mistake of trying to make sense of Edward’s art using a rational or analytical mindset. The structures of Las Pozas are described as, “[concrete structures that]…provide shelter only for the individual and collective dreams of all visitors and residents who have taken refuge there –or those who’ve lost their way, given that (and this must be made very clear) none of these buildings is useful, at least not if one tries to understand them in a superficial sense. Rather, these are petrified dreams for all who pass by. There are doors that cannot be opened, stairways that lead nowhere, buttresses that push up against nothing, a library without books, a heterodox movie theater crowned by two gigantic columns, beams that sustain no weight but still traverse the flagstones in the most chaotic way imaginable, reclining like enormous serpents and holding only a single flowerpot on top (UNESCO).”
Las Pozas of Xilitla are not meant to be understood or make sense to our rational mind. As a matter of fact, people who are not familiar with Edward James and his work might describe his work as “bizarre” or “out of this world.” Even locals from Xilitla could not make sense of Edward’s work. Many didn’t understand why a rich foreigner would build such ‘useless structures.’
Edward James was a man often misunderstood throughout his life, first by the noble rich English aristocracy where he was born and later by his own wife. He renounced his title of gentlemen from the English elite in West Dean House and decided to travel to the New World in pursue of his ideals. After spending some years in Hollywood and realizing that he ended up in a similar environment as the one he came from, he ventured out to Mexico as part of an invitation from his friend Geoffrey Gilmore. He arrived in Mexico in 1944. From then on Edward traveled throughout Mexico seeking that place his free-spirited self was always yearning for. He found it right in this small, off the map town in the middle of San Luis Potosi. This is the place where he found peace and was the source of inspiration for many of his creations including poems, works of art, sculptures, and books.
He purchased a coffee plantation near Xilitla and from 1949 to 1984 he began the long-term project which involved hiring a number of masons, artisans, and local craftsmen to build structures with names like “The Staircase to Heaven.” All of the structures were inspired by the Huastec region of San Luis Potosi and by the Surrealistic movement which he was a part of.
Las Pozas Today
The work of Edward James undoubtedly inspired many artists continuing through to this day. Known for his patronage of the surrealist art movement Edward James was a patron to Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Leonora Carrington, and Pavel Tchernichev, among many others whom he maintained financially and from whom he bought art consistently.
Edward James passed away in San Remo, Italy on December 2, 1984 leaving his Las Pozas project interrupted. The Gastélum family, close friends of Edward James, inherited the property. They maintained this private property with great affection giving it a public character for visitors and tourists to visit.
Las Pozas was declared an Artistic Monument on a national scale by the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA) in 2012.
Currently Las Pozas is under the oversight of the Pedro and Elena Hernández Foundation, a conservation organization which aims at maintaining, restoring, and conserving the property for future generations. The Pedro y Elena Hernandéz Foundation, A.C. acquired Las Pozas in 2007.
Visiting Las Pozas
Before entering this magical site I decided to put aside all preconceptions and judgements about the man who built these structures. Thus, I decided to try to look at this place with the eyes of a child. And what would a child think of this place?
I think a child would say that this place was a paradise, cool, a place inside a fairy tale. I imagine a child as she wanders through this garden would see the open buildings with no doors or ceilings, animal structures made of stone, such as a whale or a set of hands big enough to imagine that they came out of a fiction book. There are many pathways that lead to different places; one leads to a labyrinth and another one leads to small stream of water. Then as she walks for some time now and thinks she’s nearing the end of the big garden she hears the crashing sounds of water only to find out that the tour is not over. The child looks up and to her surprise sees a majestic waterfall right in front of her; this is the “cherry on top” of this unforgettable adventure through the wonderful world of Las Pozas, birthed by the imagination and willpower of Edward James.
Only with the mind of a child which is creative and free of inhibitions, without judgements or limits; whether a building must have a door or that a building must be a square rather than a circle, with no questions such as if or but’s about the possibility of building something that we dreamed last night. Only with this mindset can we appreciate the structures of Edward James.
This is how I enjoyed Las Pozas, by allowing myself to become that child who thinks the world can be anything she wants it to be. There are no limits, no rules. A door does not have to be attached to a wall, and a building does not have to have a ceiling. Perhaps the builder left it open intentionally when he built it so that when you go to sleep at night you can look up and watch the stars.
- When I visit Las Pozas I like to hire a local guide who works for Las Pozas. They are not only knowledgeable about their subject but they can shed light into some interesting information not available in travel books or the internet. Hiring a local guide from Las Pozas also helps the economy in Xilitla.
- The days with fewer visitors are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
- The months with fewer crowds are January, February, September and October.
If you have any questions about traveling to Xilitla, including the Edward James’ Surrealist Garden, among other attractions in Xilitla leave a comment and I will provide you with information.
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