A Sight to See: The Mural at Santa Maria Huatulco

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 6.03.07 PMBy Neal Erickson

Santa Maria Huatulco, an ancient town in the south-central part of the State of Oaxaca, was “conquered” by Hernan Cortes for Spain in 1539. Today it is a city of about 33,000 people, and is the seat of government of the Municipality of Santa Maria Huatulco. In Mexico the municipality is similar to the United States’ county in local government, so in the U.S. it would be called the “county seat”. Just west of the Huatulco International Airport, the road to Santa Maria is perpendicular to the coast highway and heads north (taking this road south will lead you to San Augustin Beach). Approximately seven miles (10-11km) later, it enters the outskirts of town.

Overlooking the zocalo or central park of Santa Maria Huatulco is the Palacio Municipal, what in the U.S. would be called the “city/county building”. A large square building covering much of a city block, it’s a group of offices in four sides surrounding an open courtyard in the Spanish Colonial Style. As you pass through the arched entrance to the building, turn left as you enter the courtyard and you will see the wide stairway leading to the second level of offices. On the two-story walls of the stairwell, and also the ceiling, is the brilliantly colored mural commissioned in 2005, painted by local La Crucecita artist Rafael Ortega. (http://www.rortega.com.mx/)

Mr. Ortega said he first approached then Municipal President Humberto Cruz in 2004, bringing sketches and suggesting the theme and location for the mural. President Cruz liked the concept and after some meetings and even a scale model presentation, he approved the commission. Ortega said the work took between 5 and 6 months to complete, beginning with scaffolding to paint the ceiling and high work, and continuing top down to completion.

Entitled, “Huatulco: Our Past, Present, and Future”, the mural begins at ground level with a pyramid representing pre-Colonial times, generally referring to the archaeological area being developed near the mouth of the Copalita River, and flows upward through images representing various historical and architectural aspects of the Huatulco Municipality through the ensuing years. Utilizing an abundance of primary colors in the tradition of indigenous art and craft work, the images Ortega selected move through the ancient, and then more recent historical themes and events, eventually leading into a present-time group of image-thoughts representing the now dominant tourist business and into its future.

Rafael Ortega was born in Mexico City in 1962, and studied at the National Institute of Fine Arts and in the Academy of San Carlos of the National University, UNAM. He has also done research trips to France, Italy and Spain and had solo exhibitions in Montreal, Canada and the Dubrovka Gallery in Slovakia, along with others in Mexico. In La Crucecita he operates his contemporary art studio/cafe “La Luz Azul”, and is also the director of the Cultural Center “la Casa de la Cultura” which he founded in 1999. In the Bays of Huatulco, Mr. Ortega has painted murals located at the Xquenda Spa in Chahué, the restaurant La Crucecita, and his most recent in the dome inside Plaza Madera.

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