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September 06, 2002 - Image 129

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-09-06

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inda and Michael Margolin were on vaca-
tion in Florida when they fell in love with
an intensely colorful sculpture in a store-
front window.
"It was unlike anything we had ever seen," says
Linda, an educator at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
"We didn't move for an hour."
When no one came to open the shop, the
Margolins returned the next day. This time they met
owner Jane Drake, who became a lifelong friend and
Drake explained the wooden sculpture in the win-
dow was the Virgin of Guadeloupe, a piece of
Mexican folk art portraying one of the country's
central religious and cultural symbols. The dark-
skinned native version of the Virgin Mary is consid-
ered key to the conversion of millions of native
Indians to the Catholic Church of their Spanish
Though the Margolins knew nothing about the
genre before Drake taught them their first lesson,
they loved the sculpture and bought it.
According to a catalogue from the San Diego
Museum of Man, a foremost anthropological muse-
um noted for its folk art collection, Mexican folk art
"jolts the imagination" with colorful, imaginative
animals, people and other handmade, one-of-a-kind
Thirty years after their first purchase, the
Margolins have 3,000 pieces of Mexican folk art and
have loaned parts of their collection for exhibition at
various museums around the country.
Next week, the University of Michigan-Dearborn
opens the exhibit "Mexican Folk Art: The Margolin
Collection," presenting 300 pieces that will be on
display in the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery from Sept.
12-Oct. 25.

Art Bridges Cultures

But the Margolins don't collect art simply to display
it in museums.
"We consider art something to live with," says
Linda, who has a bachelor's degree in art history
with an emphasis on Italian Renaissance art and a
master's degree in Native American art.
"There's always something new for me to see in it.
We're not minimalists. We've never had blank walls."
Walk through the Margolins' front door and her
words become a humorous understatement.
Their Detroit home — inside and out — is joy-
fully brimming with colorful pieces of Mexican folk
art, including terra cotta platters, cornhusk figurines,
elaborate trees of life and wooden animals in bright
colors like magenta and green, yellow and red. The
figures rest on shelves, tabletops and walls, and hang
from the ceiling.
When asked to explain the attraction of their myr-
iad works of Mexican folk art, Michael, a therapist
at Counseling Associates in Southfield, as well as an
arts writer and society columnist for the Detroit
News, says he and his wife learn a great deal from
Quoting Nobel Prize-winning Colombian poet
Octavio Paz, he adds, "If you look at folk art, you

Above: Ceramic village people, by Josefina Aguilar, come alive
in a celebration with traditional paper decorations.

Left: At the market, a woman carries her bounty, a pineapple
on her head; this piece is by Irene Aguilar (sister to Josefina),
whose family members have been Mexican folk artists for four

Below: A Day of the Dead mermaid: Its skeletal face touches
an appreciation for ancestors and the continuum of life in
Mexican folk art.

Opposite page: Festive trees of life and other folk art burst
from the landing of the Margolin home.

see the beginnings of history."
The forms, shapes and traditions in this work go
back hundreds and thousand of years, says Michael,
who has a master's degree in social work. 'As you
begin to learn about it, you learn about the depths
of the soul."
But the Margolins find that some people belit-
tle Mexican folk art as simply "whimsical"
or "primitive," not understanding the
craft and traditions that go into mak-
ing it.
Ken Gross, the Berkowitz Gallery
director, understands this dichotomy
and hopes the initial attraction to the art
will engage viewers to go deeper.
"The collection is very accessible
because of its playful, bright
and engaging images," he
says: "But it also touches
deep emotional chords."
He sees this exhibit as a
tool for those who have lit-
tle exposure to the Hispanic
community to gain an
appreciation of it. The
exhibit is part of a series
that celebrates the cultural
diversity on the campus and in Detroit.
Even the first-time viewer can find something
"fascinating, frightening and peculiar in it," he says.
He points out the eerie, sometimes comic, Day of
the Dead figures in the exhibit. These skeleton-like
images show up in peculiar places, like the face of an
otherwise voluptuous ceramic mermaid sunning her-

self with a radio at her side.
"It's comic to see skeletons doing what we do,"
Gross says. "But it gets complex because these fig-
ures are an appreciation for ancestry and the contin-
uum of life."
The irony is how this old, indigenous culture
is now making a return to the modern
"Mexican tradition is greatly
influencing our culture," says
Michael, pointing to a recent
New York Times article on the
growing trend of Mexican art on
performing arts, music and theater in
the United States.

How To Collect

The Margolins' passion to collect
did not start with folk art, Linda
says. One or the other of them col-
lected antique jewelry, drawings,
mannequin heads and 300 sets of
"Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no
evil" figures.
Photo by Joseph Marks
Collecting became a labor of
love, and over the years the
Mexican folk art took precedence.
For those who may want to start a collection, the
Margolins suggest buying what you love, not
because it's the thing currently in fashion.
"Each piece has its own worth to us," Linda says.
"It doesn't matter if it costs 2 cents or $200. It's a
SOUL OF A PEOPLE on page 130


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