Rare Exhibition of Artwork by Leonard Brooks, SMA Art Scene Fixture

LEONARD BROOKS

By Eva Villalón

Selected artworks by Leonard Brooks will be exhibited for the first time since his death in November 2011.

Brooks—and his famous wife Reva—began contributing to San Miguel’s art scene in 1947, when both arrived from Canada by invitation from Stirling Dickinson. Both Brooks and Dickinson are today regarded as founding fathers of San Miguel’s art scene.

Dickinson welcomed Brooks first as a student, then almost immediately as a teacher in the newly founded art school known today as the Bellas Artes, or Centro Cultural de Ignacio Ramirez. Brooks included music in his curriculum and donated his salary to buy instruments for children in the program, which he headed for over 25 years.

The artworks to be show, owned by his estate, has not been viewed publicly since shortly after he turned 100, when he was honored by San Miguel de Allende in the Teatro Angela Peralta along with an exhibition of his work that filled the downtown Presidencia.

Along with paintings and posters offered for sale, the exhibition will also include sketchbooks, published books, and information about this influential artist and his life in San Miguel de Allende.

Canadian War Artist’s Transformation into SMA Art Pioneer

Leonard Brooks had 56 one-man shows and was in over 30 joint shows during his lifetime, the second last being a one-man show at the Diego Riviera museum in Guanajuato.

The Rumi Gallery of Oakville Ontario sums up Leonard Brooks’s artistic path this way: the world-renowned Canadian landscape painters, The Group of Seven, influenced him. He honed his craft as a Canadian War Artist, and then as a transformed artist in Mexico. Rumi goes on to say that, Leonard Brooks is seen as a pioneer: an artist who took a leap of faith on the world outside of Canada and helped to establish one of the most vibrant artistic communities in Mexico. His foundation in traditional Canadian landscape painting never left him, and he applied it in and around San Miguel, painting church gatherings, the local markets, and its rolling hills. His interest in abstract compositions developed later.

What must always be added to Brooks’s story is that he created it with his photographer and wife, Reva, who was selected by the San Francisco Museum of Art in California as one of the top 50 women photographers of all time. She died in 2004. The artist couple’s full story was captured in John Virtue’s 2001 book Leonard and Reva Brooks: Artists in Exile in San Miguel de Allende. Brooks also wrote eight books on painting and, at age 95, published a ninth book, Sir Nobby: A Cat-ography, written from the viewpoint of his Siamese cat.

The Life of the Artist

Once Leonard and his photographer and wife, Reva, settled in San Miguel in 1947, other artists followed him. He was not only the longtime dean of artists in San Miguel but for 25 years was the director of the music department at the Mexican government’s cultural centre. Born in Enfield, England on November 7, 1911, Brooks attended school in Toronto and North Bay before dropping out at age 15 to study art. During the Depression, Brooks worked his way on a cattle boat to England, where he scrounged a livelihood in London’s Chelsea art district. Once penniless in Spain, he appealed to famed British water colorist Frank Brangwyn for help. Impressed by Brooks’ paintings, Brangwyn sent him the funds needed to get back to Canada.

His European experience helped convince the Toronto Board of Education that he had the equivalent of a high school education, allowing him to obtain his teacher’s certificate. He taught art for six years at Northern Vocational High School in Toronto before he enlisted in the Navy. After designing the sets for the Navy Show, Leonard was appointed an official war artist in 1944 and sent to England. When he returned to Northern Vocational in 1946, he found it difficult to be a part-time painter again, and he applied for and received a one-year grant from the Veterans Affairs department to study art in San Miguel.

Brooks soon made friends with of one of Mexico’s leading artists, the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Siqueiros’s presence in San Miguel eventually led to the closure of the art school where he and Brooks taught and the deportation at gunpoint in 1950 of Brooks, his wife Reva, and six other foreign teachers. The owner of the art school, who triggered the deportation, claimed the teachers, like Siqueiros, were Communists.

Brooks was able to use his influence with a former Mexican cabinet minister, to whom he had given art lessons, to get the deportation order lifted. Had this not happened, San Miguel would have had no foreign teachers attracting students from abroad. San Miguel likely would have not become the art colony it is today.

The life and art of Leonard Brooks will be on display at Hacienda La Petaca on March 3, 4, 10, and 11 from 12–4pm. In addition to selected art for sale, visitors can also enjoy snacks and refreshments. Hacienda La Petaca is located at KM 68 Carretera San Miguel-Dolores Hidalgo. A shuttle will be running from La Aurora Fabrica during open hours.

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Hacienda La Petaca

Hacienda La Petaca is located in the municipality of San Miguel de Allende, adjacent to a small community called La Cuadrilla, and is bordered by the old road to Atotonilco. The Viceroy of New Spain deeded the land to Captain Don Diego de Peguero in 1566. The Hacienda was used to provide shelter to Spanish troops who provided protection during the transportation of silver from mines in Guanajuato. In the year 1773, Juan Jose Maria Francisco de Lanzagorta de lnchauregui was born in the Hacienda. He was a member of the Vice-royalty, and eventually a military man who later achieved the officer’s rank of Captain. In the midst of changing times, he decided to join the Mexican independence movement. His friend, the army officer Ignacio Allende, was one of the principal founders of the independence movement. On September 16, 1810, Father Hidalgo with Captain Ignacio Allende at his side, left Hacienda La Erre in nearby Dolores, crossed the Río Laja at Hacienda de San Antonio La Petaca. As they were passing the hacienda, some laborers who worked there, shouted “Viva Hidalgo!”, and were among the first to join the War for Mexican Independence. In these historic moment, Hacienda de San Antonio La Petaca earned its place in the fight for Mexican independence.

The Hacienda’s central courtyard still reflects the original arches that Don Antonio de Lanzagorta Urtusuastegui built in memory of his native land, Bordejuela, Spain, a place occupied for centuries by the Moors. The original walls are a mixture of stone, brick, adobe, and lime plaster. Included on the 23 hectares that remain of the hacienda property is a private church dedicated to the Patron of San Antonio de Padua—the patron saint of children. There are currently plans to sell lots for single-family homes and renovate the old hacienda into a hotel, restaurant, and thermal waters spa.

 

Art Exhibition and Sale

Works from Leonard Brooks

Sat–Sun, Mar 3–4 and Mar 10–11, 12–4pm

Hacienda La Petaca

KM 68 Carretera San Miguel-Dolores Hidalgo

lapetaca.com.mx

 

 

 

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