A surreal concrete fantasy world in the middle of a jungle
A place of fusion of organic and artificial, between jungle and concrete, was created by an eccentric British artist and a patron of the surrealism: Edward James. The sculpture park bears a name “Las Pozas” (“water pools” in Spanish) and is located deep in the mountains in Xilitla, San Luis Potosi. The surrealistic labyrinth covers almost 9 hectare of garden with 27 buildings, structures, and sculptures, and another 27 hectare of natural landscape.
It is easy to get lost in this dream world with the random layout of natural and artificial pools and waterfalls, buildings that evoke nonsense, doors that open up to nothing, stairs that lead to nowhere, and concrete flowers that grow along with natural ones.
In 1940 James moved to Taos, New Mexico, later to a few neighborhoods in Los Angeles including Hollywood and Malibu. In Los Angeles, James began to become preoccupied with finding an idyllic space in which he could fully dedicate himself to writing and poetry.
1947 Edward James purchased a coffee plantation near Xilitla, San Luis Potosi, and registered it in the name of Plutarco Gastelum, who was his housekeeper and a close friend, and whose children later inherited the surreal park. Between 1949 and 1984, James would employ many throughout Xilitila, spending more than five million dollars to make his dream come true.
The terraces that form the house served as an inspiration for Edward James to design other structures, write poetry and compose extensive letters to friends that could go on for as long as sixty pages.
His eccentrism or maybe love for animals was especially obvious in his behavior with them: he would book a separate hotel room for his boa snakes or bury his alligator in a coffin with a priest blessing it.
During the first years, Edward James kept Las Pozas as a plantation for his huge orchid collection and as a home for his different animal species (deer, ocelots, snakes, flamingos and other birds).
In 1962, after an unusual frost destroyed a large portion of Edward James plantation, he began the construction of the sculptural garden which would withstand all unexpected frost...
More than 150 local people worked on the project. For years, Edward James was one of the biggest employers in the area who always took care of his employees. He paid for some of his workers' children's education, and until now he is a legend in a small town of Xilitla. The construction was halted in 1984, the year in which Edward James passed away. Some of the sculptures are left unfinished.
It was only in 1991 that the doors of the garden were opened to the public. Now the park is being visited by more than 100,000 people annually.
On November 23, 2012, Las Pozas was declared a National Artistic Monument.
Among the most important buildings and sculptures is the movie theater where movies were to be projected for Xilitla’s inhabitants. Edward James said that to look through the arch was like having a permanent screen for the garden.
The Bamboo Palace: James called it “the tower of hope” and said that one day it would be his home.
Between 1964 and 1967, painter Leonora Carrington visited the garden and left testimony in the form of a fresco mural 0.90 meters wide and 2.55 meters high. The mural is a figure with human feminine traits and a zoomorphic head and is to be found in Plutarco Gastélum ́s house, now converted into a hotel, El Castillo. It is the house in which Edward James stayed on his visits to Xilitla, and so did we.
From birth, Edward James had an exceptional life. His baptismal godfather was King Edward VII, a friend to James’s parents and a frequent guest in their home. It is difficult to prove now, but some say that the King might be his father, but more likely he was his grandfather, as our guide mentioned :)
His childhood and part of his adolescence was spent at West Dean Castle in West Sussex, England.
In 1928, he inherited a significant fortune from his father and uncle. This fortune enabled Edward to fulfill all his fantasies during his lifetime and to promote the fine arts.
James studied literature at Oxford and it was there where he began to get involved in the world of the arts. In the same years, he created his own publishing company, the James Press, through which he published certain works of his friends’ as well as his own poetry.
In 1930, he met Tilly Losch, an Austrian dancer, with whom he fell in love. A year later they married in New York. During their three years of marriage, James attempted to demonstrate his love for Tilly and commissioned several ballets in which she performed as prima ballerina.
Throughout his life, James maintained intriguing relationships with art and fashion-world personalities such as René Magritte, who painted several pieces for James in which the patron served as a model, designers Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel, and Nikki de Saint Phalle, photographer Man Ray, painter Max Ernst, sculptors Isamu Noguchi and Henry Moore—and many others.
In December 1984, Edward James died from a thrombosis at age 77 in San Remo, Italy. He was buried in the West Dean botanical garden in England.
Since 1971 the Edward James Foundation sponsors an art school headquartered in West Dean Castle. To this date, the school is one of the most prestigious art schools in the world offering classes on painting, writing, photography, sculpture, tapestry design, ceramics conservation, furnishings, antique musical instruments and much more.
If you decide to visit Las Pozas, the easiest way would be to rent a car. It also gives you flexibility to see more on the way. I have discovered "a new Mexico" in San Luis Potosi, often it reminded me of Switzerland and Italy with green mountains, deep valleys and many cows. The area is famous with its nature and many spectacular waterfalls. I would think that you can easy spend a week in Huasteca Potosina. Los Pozas is a seven-hour drive from Mexico City.
However this time I took a bus from Mexico city to San Luis Potosi, where I rented a car and returned it a few days later. There is 4-5 hour drive to Xilitla from San Luis Potosi. The tall roads are in excellent condition in Mexico as well as driving culture on them. I was surprised how drivers move to the side of the road every time you go faster than they and let you pass forming a third line in the middle.
Before the pandemic, there was one direct bus from the Mexico Norte bus terminal. The Ovnibus departed each evening at 10:00 pm and took 9 hours and 30 minutes to reach Xilitla (it costed about 35 USD).
In order to avoid lines at the park it is recommended to buy tickets in advance. There are a few options: on line or in Carrington's museum in Xilitla. Now the tickets are sold for a certain time frame, and you are not allowed to wander alone neither to swim in the park. A tour with a guide takes approximately 1,5 hour.
Some video about Edward James: