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Artist Mai Onno Donates Painting to Biblioteca’s Permanent Art Collection


By Debra Broussard

Mai Onno, part of a small group of artists who helped establish San Miguel de Allende as an art colony in the 1950s, has generously donated an important artwork to the Biblioteca.

Flor y Canto, the glorious painting shown here, is now displayed in one of the Sala Ingles’s small rooms, together with paintings by other important San Miguel artists.

Throughout her career, Onno has been drawn to the organic form. Flor y Canto is a fantastic example of the nature of her work, which has been called “lyrical abstraction.” The painting now on display in the Biblioteca creates a vortex, pulling you into the modest library space where it hangs.

Born in Estonia, Onno was a refugee of World War II who was forcibly relocated to a displaced persons camp in Germany with her father after peace was declared in 1945. Onno and her father lived there for four years.

Trauma and many unforeseen complications dominated their lives during and after the war. Eventually, at 14, Mai emigrated to Canada, where her aunt raised her.

In Canada, Onno resumed her prewar studies. She was admitted to the prestigious secondary fine arts program at the Bealart School in London, Ontario, where she studied art for five years. Bealart recognized her with a scholarship to continue her studies at the Instituto Allende. Following a three-day-and-night journey by train from Ontario, Onno arrived in dusty San Miguel de Allende one quiet afternoon in 1957.

After studying for a year here, Onno won another scholarship, this time from the Instituto Allende. In year three at the school, Onno won a full-residence scholarship that included room and board at the Instituto’s hotel. Onno lived and studied alongside two other art scholars, Romeo Tabuena from the Philippines, and Lothar Kestenbaum, originally from Germany. Onno and Kestenbaum eventually married.

With the exception of brief travels to study and work abroad, Onno has lived in San Miguel for more than 60 years, caring for a family, studying, and painting. For twenty of those years, she taught painting at Bellas Artes and provided private art instruction.

The Biblioteca is immensely grateful for this generous gift.

If you are interested in seeing more of Mai Onno’s paintings, please contact Debra Broussard, who will arrange for a private tour of her atelier in the countryside, a short 15-minute ride from San Miguel. Email  for details.


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