Merry Calderoni, a Joyful Painting Woman
Personality of the month
By Jade Arroyo
Merry Calderoni is a woman who is hard to define, but why wouldn’t she be? She is an intrinsically creative person who has strived to develop imagination in her life through art, travel, sports, discovery, and love. If I had to use a word for her, it would be artist. She’s known for the bold, large format artwork that’s featured at her studio.
She was born in a part of Texas that’s a continuation of the Chihuahua desert—in the town of Odessa—surrounded by air, sun, and sand, and a lot of freedom. Being in the desert, a little isolated and without water, people have to be very resourceful and make things out of nothing. Merry had a childhood without restrictions, and that influenced her later work. At the age of six, she started taking the art lessons that led toward her career.
Kids were into sports and outdoor activities in Odessa, so Merry grew up as a keenly athletic girl. She loved tennis, golf, and horseback riding. Everything was geared around the Friday Night lights.
When in junior high, she discovered the discipline of the whip. Her interest and advancement in this skill from then through her university years made Merry a whip expert and the captain of a group of about 70 girls called Las Señoritas de Las Rosas (The Misses of the Roses).
They were sexy, fearless, confident girls who would march in official parades wearing shorts and cowboy boots, doing tricks with the whips. Her expertise includes precision cutting (starting with a newspaper sheet and cutting it down to stamp size, or cutting a cigarette in half while someone was holding it in her lips). She had 7-, 12-, and 18-foot whips. That’s how she met Ben, the boy who was brave enough to be her assistant in the whip routine and became her partner for nearly 50 years. This job paid well and allowed her to go through the University of Texas. Las Señoritas de Las Rosas were so remarkable that they were booked to perform in front of President John F. Kennedy, but he died before the event took place.
“Art is a part of me,” she says. “I was always around artists and encouraged to do art.” Merry’s mom was a sculptress and her sister, a ceramicist. “They are artists, even though they don’t believe it,” she says.
Merry majored in dance and got married, and she was still creating art. She and Ben lived in Venezuela for 12 years in connection with his work and had their daughter Crystal there. She had personal shows, kept painting, was a coach for swimming, and played a lot of golf. When the country nationalized the oil business, they returned to the US in 1974. That very summer she found San Miguel de Allende. Merry and her toddler daughter came to town for a summer course in art. They stayed at Quinta Loreto. Merry took classes with some of the best teachers, including painting with Jaime Pinto.
It was San Miguel’s golden era. Every kind of discipline was taught, from weaving, to creative writing, to sculpture. The school was overflowing with creativity and talent, with hundreds of students striving to consume the vibrant art and crafts and techniques. Merry was so taken with San Miguel that she cajoled her husband for more than a decade to come here with her. She returned to the US, and everything she did professionally was always linked to art.
Merry had always been infatuated with Mexico since childhood. She loved mariachi music, the dancing, the pop movie stars, and the ancient culture.
This love for Mexico has always influenced her art and life and still does. When back in the US, the Calderonis lived in Houston for 26 years. Merry had her studio there.
“When I returned to live in the USA, I had two businesses that were linked to art: I had an art company that produced handmade paper and collage artwork for hundreds of art galleries and designer stores throughout USA. I was also a fashion designer with my own label, and I sold “weekend luxury” clothing to over 300 stores and boutiques throughout USA, Canada, and even Guam. The brand was named “Comoni Designs.”
The couple came to San Miguel 17 years ago to spend holidays with family. They rented a place and welcomed everybody. They were already thinking about moving from the US and leading a more relaxed life, so they decided to make being hosts a way of living and opened the Casa Calderoni B&B.
Merry opened her studio at Fábrica La Aurora 13 years ago, when the place was empty. “I was only looking for a place to paint.” She was one of the initiators, back in the day when it was all warehouses, before it was remodeled. Merry attributes her success in getting the space to meeting the then owner Paco Garay at the right time, on the right day, and in the right mood, since at the time he was trying to sell it as a factory.
A few months later, Mary Rapp came and opened her studio; then Peter Leventhal, Juan Ezcurdia, and Dwayne Youts followed. Afterwards, everyone wanted to have a studio there.
Some of Merry’s best work centers around Mexican themes, following the thread of color and texture. Her work is also about change: the ever changing life, history, the walls that peel off. These concepts occur in such exhibits as Mexcavations, Soldaderas, Pyramids, Colors. She loves to experiment.
She was selected as part of a group of five Mexican women chosen to exhibit in Mexican Embassies. “Six of my paintings are touring various European countries. The exhibit is called “Entre Ramas.” It was just shown in Portugal and will travel to Spain, France, and Prague. It is a great honor to be included this prestigious group.”
“I get influenced by places I go, people I meet, stories I hear. I love what I’m doing now because it is very free.”