Community art projects in paradise

Judy Wray calls Tepoztlán “paradise.” So, she decided to add her touch to it.

Judy Wray

Wray and her husband Lazlo Krisch moved to Tepoztlán over 13 years ago. They traveled all over Mexico looking for a place to retire, but fell in love with the town as soon as they arrived.

Wray grew up in a creative household. She recalls that her mother was fun, having the kids do projects like make heads from the old flashbulbs that were used on brownie box cameras. Wray’s mother also taught her to think big.

Today, “big” is creating community-based art projects with international participation and support. She supports these projects with her own money, joking that if she did not do this, she would be “gambling it away in Atlantic City.” However, she has also been persuasive with local organizations and even companies such as Comex to donate resources.

Local assistant working on a mural near Wray’s home

Wray acknowledges that she has had a fortunate life and wants to give opportunities to other people, not just to make some money (she pays assistants well), but to also give them a chance to think big. This includes hiring locals who have been marginalized to do odd jobs and even to paint murals. One case was with a man named Enrique, who unfortunately had had a problem with alcohol. Despite this, he has become one of her principal mural painting assistants.

The idea to do street murals in her neighborhood come not only because of her background but because of local conditions. Her neighborhood began to have problems with graffiti and other delinquency. The art would cover areas that the graffiti formerly did and working with neighbors would create a sense of community. The idea worked in no small part because of the quality of the work as well as the fact that the cobblestone roads oblige drivers to move slowly and appreciate the work.

Ideas for the murals come locally and internationally. One of the murals is Maya y el Último Árbol, designed by artist Irene Suarez or KikiMundo from Chiapas. It is part of a series called Cuentos en las Calles/Street Stories. Scottish artist Johanna Basford loved the project so much that she donated related illustrations, which were made into coloring books for local children. This gives children and their families in the area a connection to the art. Wray has also worked with Chilean artist Beatriz Aurora and Kerby Rosanes of the Philippines who have provided sketches for murals that have been reproduced in town.

El Zapatista mural by Beatriz Aurora reproduced in Tepoztlan

As a kind of portable mural, Wray contract with local printers to make large vinyl tarps (called lonas), which are usually used for advertising. They are an inexpensive way to made colorful reproductions to transport to exhibitions and local events.

La Casa de la Abuela

The name of her organization, Flying Beetle, comes from a street art project she did 25 years ago back in her native New Jersey. Her husband had a friend with an auto repair shop and a mural on his wall. The project took time, and to help speed it up, the mechanic sawed a Volkswagen Beetle in half, attaching the front end to the wall being worked on. Inspired by the idea, Wray created 300 copies of the Beetle’s images as coloring pages and handed them out to schools. 267 were returned with ideas on how to paint the wall. She then took these colorings, made magnets and them onto a red van she was driving at the time. Wray fervently believes that given a chance, children (and adults) will develop their creative skills.

Another project was to exhibit VW hubcaps painted and otherwise decorated by children at the Papalote Children’s Museum in Mexico City. This came from a project originally done in New Jersey with some done in Mexico. Hubcaps from this project decorate the communal patio where Wray lives with several Mexican families.

Painted hubcaps on display where Wray and her husband live
Mural in progess in La Santisima Trinidad neighborhood.

Wray keeps a scrapbook documenting projects, past and present. Flying Beetle was also included in a book called The Book of Hope by Birgitta Jonsdottir in Iceland. One of her current projects is to recreate the half Beetle in life size in Tepotzlan, but with wings. More about Flying Beetle can be seen at flyingbeetle.us

Photos courtesy of Flying Beetle.

Note: this article was corrected as el maestro Enrique is indeed among the living. I confused him with another assistant that worked with Wray.

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