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Painter Leticia Alonso

Author: Shawndrea Corbin
Issue: March, 2013, Page 30
Photos by Garrett Cook

Phoenix artisan Lety Alonso (above) says she never repeats a design, but “paints with her imagination.”



Artisan Leticia Alonso paints furniture in colors inspired by the bright hues of Mexico

The original “La Calvera Catrina” (translated as the “Dapper Skeleton” or “Elegant Skull”) was created in the early 1900s by Mexican printmaker, Jose Guadalupe Posada, and depicts a female skeleton capped with an extravagant European-style hat. It is said that the figure was meant as a satire, portraying Mexican natives who, in Posada’s opinion, were too eager to embrace European traditions and aristocracy. La Catrina would come to be the first figure Mexican-born Leticia “Lety” Alonso would paint as she settled into her new American life.

Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Alonso spent her childhood in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she went to school and studied folklorico dancing, music and choreography. “It’s always springtime there,” she notes of her hometown, which is widely referred to as the “City of Eternal Spring.” “I like to paint my culture, the colors, the people ... Mexico.”

A course of life events brought Alonso to Phoenix 14 years ago, with her 4-month-old son. “In Mexico you make money, but it isn’t enough. A school teacher makes $8 a day, but a pair of shoes will cost $40. So I said, ‘I have my dreams,’ and I left. My dream was this store.”

Alonso designs the furniture sold at her Phoenix store, Meza’s in Art, and a hired carpenter crafts it for her. She then paints and finishes the furniture to her liking. The self-taught artisan says she was nervous to paint at first because if it was not well done, it would have to be re-sanded and finished. “I chose to paint La Catrina because it was becoming a big symbol here in Phoenix. People asked for it all year long, even when it wasn’t time for the Day of the Dead.” Her work now includes images of white lilies, sunflowers and religious figures.

A piece titled Sunflower Credenza measures 30"H by 62 1/2"W by 15"D.
“We celebrate a lot [in Mexico], and there are so many flowers everywhere,” she comments.

Today, Alonso runs her store with the occasional help of her two children and two grandchildren. She likes to use bright colors, evident in the store’s sunflower-yellow interior, which she says reminds her of her country. She notes, “To this day, when I open the doors to my store and see all the colors, I get so happy and I am reminded of home.”

When asked if language creates a barrier between her and her clients, the mostly Spanish-speaking Alonso replies that her customers are often familiar with her work and tend to tell her “do whatever you like.” “I don’t work with my tongue, I work with my hands. The art is in my hands.”

An example of an American dream fulfilled, Alonso has owned her store for 12 years now, and keeps her culture and history alive through her vibrantly painted works. Images of La Catrina can be found throughout her shop, smiling a wide toothy grin and hinting at the continuation of the human spirit and the many hats it can don.

A custom chair is painted with Alonso’s stylized lilies.

A hand-painted corbel offers folk art appeal.
A rustic bench with a distressed finish is painted in jewel tones. “I love the dark look of antiques,” says Lety Alonso.

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