It’s interesting when you come upon something in Mexico that you had no idea was from Mexico.
In the small state of Colima on Mexico’s west coast, there is a small “Pueblo Mágico” called Comala, near the state capital. It is a small agricultural town, known for its white buildings, many of which have been recently restored to their former glory, and streets paved with river stones.
One of the main attractions of Comala is the Nogueras Hacienda, which was the home of artist and artisan Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo and founded as a sugar can plantation by Rangel’s grandfather.
I did not recognize the name when I visited the hacienda, nor the furniture style that bears his name (more on that below), but when I saw his illustrations, I was instantly transported back to the Christmases of my childhood in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Those my age and older may remember the rather famous UNICEF Christmas card series which began in 1963. UNICEF has sold greeting cards before and since the distinctive images made by Rangel, but his designs have been by far the most successful for the organization. The two most popular themes were “Christmas through the Ages” featuring images from Europe and North America from the 15th century onward and “Angels of this World” featuring images of children in various ethnic dress and objects associated with various countries.
The success of the cards was financially rewarding for Rangel, who was working to save the family home from foreclosure as sugar was no longer a viable source of income. However, the fame of the cards did not make Rangel’s a household name and for this reason many/most of us who fondly remember the cards have no idea that there is a Mexico connection.
Rangel was a multitalented man and his work was not limited to greeting cards. He was an interior designer working on projects from Colima northward to San Francisco. He founded a school in Comala to teach design and handcrafts as well as schools of architecure in the cities of Colima and Guadalajara.
He also designed and produced a line of furniture called “Rangelino, ” principally one and two-person chairs, a type of butaca chairs. These have wood frames and armrests with leather draped over for a hammock effect. The wood is a natural color with minimal decoration, while the leather may be natural or dyed. These chairs were quite popular for a time especially in Mexican embassies around the world.
Rangel’s work came in spurts with periods of intense activity interspersed with those of seclusion. The productive times each produced their own styles, but one thing that ties most of Rangel’s work, from greeting cards to furniture is a combination simple modern lines with a folk art feeling, tying both the 20th century to the past.
Upon his death in 2000, Rangel left the family hacienda to the University of Colima which now manages it as Centro Cultural Nogueras, open to the public. Various rooms of the hacienda contain collections of regional archeological pieces, the furniture an other items of the hacienda, along with a hall dedicated to the greeting card work of the 1960s. The center has a gift shop which sells high-quality prints of Rangel’s work for those of us wanting to bring a little of that nostalgia home.