Best in Antique Mexican Folk Art Found at Arte de la Vida in Tucson

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Tucson shop dedicated to the best in vintage and antique Mexican folk art, is becoming a key destination for local, national and international collectors.

Just about anything that falls under the category of Mexican folk art can be found here. Vintage pottery, tin, lighting, textiles, ceramics, paper mache, glass, wood, milagros and aguilar clay figures are all represented in the shop. Many items were created by some of the best-known Mexican artisans dating as far back as the 1920s.

Arte de la Vida (Art of Life) represents the passion for Mexican folk arts long held by co-owners James Goodreau and Kevin Pawlak. They began as collectors themselves several years ago when living in Phoenix. Tucson beckoned and, in 2012, they moved to the Old Pueblo and opened at 37 N. Tucson Blvd.

“We’ve been collecting vintage Mexico folk art for years,” James says. “We started with Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) pieces like so many other collectors. We fell in love with the beauty and the variety of Mexican folk art.”

He smiles and waves his hand as if to indicate how extensive the field really is. “Mexican folk artisans are prolific, and there’s a lot of variety.”

The shop is a treasure trove where collectors can choose from gorgeous ceramic pieces such as “Woman with Bird” by artisan Gemma Toccogna. Or they can investigate shop walls filled with a variety of unique and original artisan-created crosses. Beautiful cabinets filled with finely carved wooden pieces and exquisitely wrought ceramics with Aztec and Maya motifs draw us in for a closer look. Colorful, richly woven and embroidered textiles, including Mexican serapes and huipils, invite our touch.

“The textiles are my favorite,” James says.

Looking up, we see dramatic lighting elements of tin. On nearby shelves, we discover one of the finest selections of vintage Mexican glass in the entire Southwest. The glass is especially alluring because pieces were created in unexpectedly intense colors—among them a stunning deep blue. Also, we see Tlaquepaque pottery and finely carved wooden animals and birds from well-known carver Manual Jimenez. There’s even vintage Sermel paper mache pieces.

Other well-known artisans represented in the shop include: Heron Martinez, Alfonso Soteno, Medrano, Teodora Blanco and Bustamante. Collectors interested in investing in these and other artisans’ work will find many pieces from which to choose.

Although Arte de la Vida has an informative website, collectors will especially want to watch the shop’s Facebook page. James explains, “When we find new pieces, we’ll post the news first on our Facebook page even before we take the piece to the shop.”

Collectors who return again and again include Tucsonan Eric Rau who was at the shop recently to find Day of the Dead pieces for an upcoming celebration. “I love the Day of the Day items,” Eric said, “and the masks here are fantastic, too.”

Collectors come from around the world. Just last month, James says a collector came all the way from Japan. “He found us on the web. When he came to the U.S. on business, he made a point of coming to Tucson. He sought out our shop and bought several items, which are now on their way to Japan.”

Arte de la Vida also gives collectors an opportunity to learn about Mexican history and culture. A mural painted on the wall shows the trade routes through Mexico into the American Southwest. Missions were established along these routes, and traders carried artisans’ work into what would eventually become the United States. These days, James tells us, the shop finds its inventory from many sources, among them estate sales and individual transactions.

Arte de la Vida is a necessary stop for Mexican folk art collectors who live nearby or who plan to visit Tucson. The shop is located at 37 N. Tucson Blvd. just north of Broadway Blvd. Learn more at or call 520-398-6720.

C.J. Shane is a Tucson freelance writer and artist.

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