Casa Manana: The Morrow Collection of Mexican Popular Arts (review)
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Journal of American Folklore 116.462 (2003) 493-494



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Casa Mañana: The Morrow Collection of Mexican Popular Arts. Ed. Susan Danly. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, for the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, 2002. Pp. xiv + 199, photographs, notes, appendix, bibliography, index.)

This series of essays concerns Dwight and Elizabeth Cutter Morrow and their collecting of Mexican artifacts while the former was ambassador to Mexico during 1927-30. The Morrows furnished their weekend house in Cuernavaca (then two hours from Mexico City) with crafts bought in Mexico City and during their travels. [End Page 493] The house, which they named Casa Mañana, became "an informal setting for important discussions with Mexico's leading political and cultural figures" (p. xi) and the craft objects a collective manifestation of the Morrows' informed affection for Mexico. The book's title is imprecise, because little of this volume concerns the Morrows' craft collection as a set of things. The focus is instead on the collecting process as an expression of U. S.-Mexican diplomacy and on how the visual arts came to play a critical role in defining Mexican cultural identity. The book came into being in association with an exhibit of this collection, now largely in the hands of Amherst College, Morrow's alma mater. Each essay appears in both English and Spanish. The translations are excellent; their inclusion makes the book seem meatier than it is.

In the first (and best) essay, "For Business or Pleasure: Exhibiting Mexican Folk Art, 1820-1930," James Oles analyzes the histories, contents, and contrasting tacit purposes of the first half-dozen exhibits of Mexican crafts (most outside of Mexico). These shows illustrated the interaction of upper-class Mexican and foreign romantic images of Mexico. This ideologically complex nation-building came to be symbolized by crafts made by Indians who were, then as now, "gloriously praised, yet economically and politically disenfranchised" (p. 27). Much the same ground is covered by Rick A. Lopez in the second essay, "The Morrows in Mexico: Nationalist Politics, Foreign Patronage, and the Promotion of Mexican Popular Arts," but with these themes now explored through biography and history. Susan Danly's "Casa Mañana" is the only essay to concentrate on Elizabeth Morrow's thoughts and actions. Morrow understood that ordinary citizens of the United States were more likely to learn about life in Mexico through exposure to Mexico's fine and vernacular arts than through political speeches or prose. Danly's discussion of the artifacts concentrates on their social meanings. For instance, two wooden trays—one with upper-class people depicted on it and the other featuring illustrations of members of the lower class—"echo the fascination with racial distinctions found in Mexican caste paintings produced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" (p. 105).

The last essay connects with the others only through Dwight Morrow's biography. In "Painting of a Spark of Hope: Diego Rivera's History of Cuernavaca and Morelos," Anthony W. Lee discusses Morrow's doubtless uneasy relationship with Rivera and the artistic nature and biographical and political significance of this mural, which Morrow commissioned from Rivera as a parting gift to his adopted Mexican city and state. Rivera, fresh from having been thrown out of an increasingly rigid Communist party, tried in this mural "to preserve the possibility of a dissenting tradition for some future moment, when those on the left could join together again" (p. 144). This essay convincingly plumbs Rivera's probable thinking about the mural, sketches the historical situation well, and constitutes the best writing on this mural as a work of art.

The book ends with a checklist of the 155 Mexican objects given to Amherst's Mead Art Museum in 1955. For each object, the catalog includes accession number, maker of the object if known, place of production (perhaps city and certainly state), date (within a few decades, if possible—not so helpful), medium, and measurements. Just over half of the entries include tiny black-and-white pictures of the objects. The citations of medium are too short...


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