Dávalos shares his passion for Mesoamerican cultures
Vida en el Valle
(Published Tuesday, October 9th, 2012 12:59PM)
SACRAMENTO -- Felipe Dávalos is too humble of a man to admit he may very well be one of the most accomplished artistic scholars of pre-columbian and Mesoamerican cultures in the world.
For 30 years he toiled in the jungles of México and South América as an athropologist, illustrator and archaeologist, uncovering some of the most prized pre-Columbian treasures that sit in many of today's most distinguished museums around the world including the Museum of Anthropology in México City, the Getty in Los Ángeles and the Smithsonian.
Yet, the Guadalajara native, who grew up in a humble family of artisans and spent much of his adult-life in the epicenter of Mexican culture in México City -- believes his inspiration came from the kitchen table each morning when he looked up and stared at the calendar hanging from the wall.
"I was really mesmerized by the detail, the colors and the beauty of the Aztec warrior as he held a woman in his arms," Dávalos said. "I was moved by the intricacy of the artist's work, the colors and the message it intended to convey," he added.
The calendar -- made enormously popular by panaderías (bakeries) in both México and the United States who produced them in mass quantities as gifts to customers -- became an iconic piece of artwork in most Mexican households.
From those paintings and those from famous illustrator Jesus Helguera, said Dávalos, grew a desire and passion to dedicate his life to the study and re-creation of the work of his ancestors.
On September 29, Dávalos was recognized at the Mexican Cultural Center of Northern California's Annual Gala as the 'Inspiración Artistíca Cultural.' His work is widely known in Rome, Paris and Rio de Janiero.
"It is nice to be recognized for something you have dedicated your life to," Dávalos said. "But at the same time, it is important to me that my work be seen as having educational value."
In the early 40's, Dávalos attended college in México City with the intention of becoming an engineer. After realizing his passion lay elsewhere, he went to art school without any financial backing from his parents, who urged him to reconsider his path and pursue a more recognized and respected profession.
He attended the Institute of Fine Arts instead, earning degrees in both design and fine arts and became a master in the creation of copper, pottery and textiles.
"Pre-columbian art has no decorative element. The work of the Mayas, the Olmecs, the Aztecs -- none of it was made to please the eye. They created images that had meaning, they were symbols, they told a story and conveyed a message. They all had a special significance," he said.
In 1967, Dávalos met Michael Coe, regarded as one of the foremost Mayan scholars in the world for his studies on that civilization. Together, they studied Olmec stone monuments in the jungle where Dávalos spent years sketching artifacts, studying design, colors and pigments and documenting them into his personal journal.
As a gifted illustrator and artist in the use of acrylic oil, watercolor, and other sketching methods, he collected samples of color pigments, neatly documenting each -- along with every piece of archaeological discovery found in the plethora of artifacts such as slab stones, broken pottery, and ancient tombs.
Hundreds of journals and sketchbooks later, Dávalos had all he needed to re-create the images that once served a greater purpose for Mesoamerican civilizations, thousands of years ago.
Nearly all of them have earned him dozens of accolades.
Last year, he was awarded the Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor Award and the Ezra Jack Keats Award as well as several for his detailed and colorful illustrations in dozens of bilingual, Spanish, English and French books. Not to mention, hundreds of history books and literary works.
"Art is like a written language composed of different pieces and fragments that are placed together to communicate a message. Art is a form of communication. If I could kindle or elevate the consciousness of a person with my work, I am serving a purpose," said Dávalos, 70.
His most famous piece of artwork to date is a full-color image of the Aztec Calendar -- or Sun Stone -- showing the face of the Sun God, Tonatiuh. Discovered beneath the Zócalo in México City, the stone is covered with mythological and astronomical symbols.
The piece of artwork caught the attention of National Geographic Magazine in the early 1980's.
To date, it has been the subject of various articles on Mayan, Olmec and the Aztec civilizations and has been reproduced in over 20,000 literary, scholarly and educative journals, books and magazines around the globe.