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Origins and Roots, the Art of Polly Stark Ortega

By Linda Laino

The word intrepid comes to mind as I listen to Polly Stark Ortega’s unusual family story. While she may be known locally for her paintings and mural work, some may not know that Polly, a New York native, practically grew up in San Miguel, securing her adopted Mexico as a deep well for her inspiration, color sense, and sensibility.

The Art of Polly Stark Ortega
Sun, Feb 28, 2-5pm
Only on Sundays
Hernández Macías 129
Tickets Mon-Fri, 12-4pm
500 pesos
Contact Rebecca at 415 152 4608 for more information

There seemed to be art in her veins, with a grandmother who was a commercial illustrator and a great aunt and uncle who were mural painters for the WPA in Chicago. Her grandmother first came to San Miguel alone after she was widowed in 1963. Her father, an artist at New York’s Cooper Union, spent his working life in the textile industry. After the family visited her grandmother a few times here, her father casually announced one morning that he had quit his job and was moving them all to Mexico. Armed with a sense of adventure but with little else planned for making a living in San Miguel, Bill Stark joked, “Maybe we’ll sell watermelons out of the back of the station wagon.”

Along with her younger sister C.C., Polly was homeschooled and steeped in Mexican culture before returning to the US to attend college at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1978. She recalls, “After being gone for five years, my own country felt more foreign to me than Mexico.”

In Cleveland, after she had divided her focus between large-scale ceramics and printmaking for three years, the director of the art program convinced her that her influences were so tied to Mexico that she should return there to continue her art education.

A series that has captured her attention recently involves working her own images over primitively painted crèche scenes that she purchased in bulk. Since the scenes are misprinted, with lettering from the offset process sometimes bleeding through, they allow her to work with a kind of history or suggestion which seems to be an ideal base for the layering, both physically and metaphorically, that she prefers. “To be a stranger in a strange land, one requires a curious mind and a spirit that allows that new life to enter, plant seeds, and take root until it becomes part of a whole experience.”

Polly’s work can be viewed at her Facebook page Polly Stark Ortega/Painter, or you can contact her at The exhibition, scheduled to run for a few weeks, may only be viewed on Sundays from 2 to 5 in conjunction with the scheduled music performance of Gil Gutiérrez and friends.

Linda Laino is an artist and teacher living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Her paintings and jewelry can be found on her website and on her Etsy shop. Her writing can be found on Elephant Journal and on Valley Haggard’s blog “Life in 10 Minutes.”


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