For 15 years, this shop has brought Mexican art to Tucson | Company

A visit to La Iguana Art Gallery on Tucson’s North Fourth Avenue will easily transport you to another location.

There, at 545 N. Fourth Ave., you can find textiles and colorful folk art from Oaxaca; suns and mirrors from Tonalá, Jalisco; catrinas, crosses and glassware; clay pots from Mata Ortíz, Chihuahua; and talavera pottery from Guanajuato.

Since opening their doors 15 years ago on May 25, 2007, husband and wife Imelda and Mario Jiménez have seen it all.

“That day, we only sold two pairs of earrings,” recalls Imelda Jiménez.

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Since then, they have managed to overcome a lot, including the economic difficulties caused by COVID-19. Rather than having to close permanently, as many stores have done, the couple emerged from the pandemic with the intention of opening a bigger store.

During this time, they travel back and forth together from the United States to Mexico, visiting artisans and artists in different states south of the border, selling their wares at La Iguana and at art fairs across Arizona. .

The ‘curiouseros’ of Nogales

Mario Jiménez says he inherited the profession of “curiousero” (the curious) from his family.

“I learned all this from my parents, from my uncles; it’s in my blood,” he says.

Mario Jiménez says his father and uncles are born salespeople. They owned very popular shops and liquor stores in Nogales, Sonora, such as the famous Mickey Mouse, where they sold Mexican crafts and wines, American perfumes, and popular brand name clothing like Levi’s jeans.

Imelda Jiménez explains that the stores were known to be curious and the owners as “curiouseros”, “because they are supposedly ‘curiosities’ for Americans”.

A decade later, Imelda and Mario met in Monterrey, Nuevo León, while studying accounting at university. They got married and opened their first store in Nogales, Sonora, focusing on Mexican art.

From Nogales to Tucson

What brought the couple to Tucson stemmed from encounters at their Nogales boutique, Mario Jiménez said.

“There were old people who came (from Tucson) and visited me; they liked to talk with me,” he said. Among them was a lady who insisted that he come to Fourth Avenue to find a place and open a store.

Mario Jiménez heeded the suggestion and one day he came to Tucson with his wife and some dolls for sale to help pay for the trip. The buyer, who also owned an art store, invited him to sell the dolls at a fair on Fourth Avenue, and he sold almost everything he brought. This prompted Jiménez to seek his own space.

“In 2007, more or less, problems appeared in Nogales, such as smuggling and the rest”, explains Mario Jiménez. So they closed the store there and came to Tucson full time.

The story behind the art

There is a story behind each of the pieces sold at La Iguana, and Imelda or Mario are happy to speak up and share how each item got there.

At first they bought the art from wholesalers, but then they started sourcing the goods themselves at better prices.

While Imelda stayed in Nogales to oversee the store and take care of her children, Mario made trips to the interior of Mexico.

“I went to places I had never been. I didn’t know anything about the people,” he says. Over time, he got to know Mexico’s huge and diverse culture firsthand. He visited artisans in small towns in Michoacán, Puebla, Chihuahua and Jalisco, and selected the merchandise.

“We don’t drive there anymore,” explains Mario Jiménez. Now they fly to their destinations, choose the products and the same artists ship them to Nogales.

Each work offered for sale at La Iguana represents not only a geographical area of ​​Mexico, but also a particular art and style. Each piece takes the time, talent and love of each artist. Everything is handmade, woven or painted by one person.

Among the many items that are sold at La Iguana, you can find many crosses. The store offers a wide variety of crosses from Jalisco, Puebla and Oaxaca. Catrinas imported from Capula, Michoacán, are also very popular.

From Oaxaca they bring Mexican folk art, rugs, table runners, pillowcases and tablecloths, all hand-embroidered. From Guanajuato they bring talavera (high temperature ceramics). They obtain blown glass products from Tonalá, Jalisco.

Mario Jiménez claims that only 15% of his customers are Mexican.

“Most of them are Americans. I think they appreciate art more; they read more” about Mexican art.

La Iguana is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more store information, call 520-882-0222.

Claudia Bungard is a Colombian journalist who worked for La Estrella de Tucson.

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