Steve Davis opens a tattered old book and flips through the pages covered with photos and descriptions of Mexican folk art. He lands on the right image and points to a standing figure of a woman, dressed in white and carrying a blue umbrella, in the artistic style of the Día de los Muertos holiday. This figure is Katrina, the original of which is standing five feet away at the foot of a bed in Davis' Paradise Valley home. He explains that a famous Diego Rivera painting called Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park inspired the three-dimensional Katrina figure because she was one of the people who strolled around the park. This book Davis references is what initially sparked his interest in vintage Mexican art, and to own such a collectible piece from its pages is very special to him.
A Phoenix native and former stockbroker, Davis maintains a massive collection of Mexican folk and fine art that is the product of his love and appreciation for the country's culture. His vintage Mexican pottery is a highlight of the whole collection, originating mainly from the 1920s-30s. Davis was immediately drawn to the art when he first visited Mexico on a trip organized by the Phoenix Art Museum in 1988. He heard about the trip through his membership in the museum and took the opportunity to visit the country with a group of experienced guides and Spanish-speakers. It was during that travel experience that he acquired the exotic Katrina figure, making it the very first piece of his collection.
Since then, he has enjoyed filling his Southwest-style home with vintage Mexican art, with the help of his wife, Sandy, who has also gotten involved in collecting. Warm red, brown, and cream colors throughout the house provide the perfect backdrop against which to feature the masses of Mexican pottery, paintings, and figurines. Every space in the house is decorated with various pieces, because as Davis says with a smile, "when you collect art, you have to find a place to put it."
Davis specifically shows us his extensive collection of Mexican folk pottery, most of which is from a small pueblo in the Guadalajara area called Tonalá. He explains how several of the pots are signed on the bottom, which is a valuable feature since the artists so rarely felt the need to do so. A father and son by the names of Augustine and Balbino Lucano, respectively, crafted several of the pots, and Davis feels especially fortunate to have signed pieces of their work in his collection. On one of Davis' subsequent trips to Mexico, he was able to visit Tonalá, which he feels gave him greater insight into his vintage pottery. In the pueblo, Davis could observe the actual environment where so much of his pottery was made and could even view contemporary Tonalá pottery in a quaint museum.
When it comes to collecting, Davis acquires most of his art on trips to Mexico. In fact, he says that the most recent addition to his collection was at an auction in Mexico City over the summer. However, he admits that eBay can be a practical way of searching, especially for those who are knowledgeable enough about the art to know exactly what they are looking for. Although new additions to his collections occasionally fall into place, it is usually his searches for particular pieces that yield the best findings. Even though it might take him six months or a year to find the essential piece of art, the satisfaction of expanding his collection keeps him searching.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Explore more of this year's Best of Phoenix 2013 multimedia content here:
Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Phoenix® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.