Visiting Sedalia has become a treat for international artist María José de la Macorra, of Mexico City, Mexico. She has visited the area eight times since exhibiting at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in 2002.
Macorra, a multi-media artist, said she needed a break after placing an installation at Milan World’s Fair in Italy, and she decided to visit Sedalia for 30 days. This week she spoke with the Democrat while staying at local sculptor Elizabeth Ritter’s home in rural La Monte.
“I have been many places in the world, but this place, something happened to me here,” she said of the Sedalia area. “I think it was the people.”
In 2002, Macorra’s artwork was in the “Awakenings” exhibit at the Daum Museum, soon after it opened. At the time, Mary McLaughlin, a local philanthropist, welcomed Macorra into her home.
During that summer, Macorra was also the Artist in Residence at the Missouri State Fair, but she felt alone. She didn’t find fair food appetizing either.
“I had to eat funnel cakes,” she said laughing.
It was the people of Sedalia who made her feel at ease, she said.
“Many people approached me … and Libby (Ritter) and Eldon Leiter met me that way,” she added.
She went on to develop a friendship with several people, including Ritter and the late Eldon Leiter, a Sedalia photographer who was known for his photographs of Mayan ruins in Mexico.
“I suddenly became part of the community,” she said. “It was fantastic. I love coming back. I’m friends with a lot of people.”
She was also befriended by local poet, essayist and visual artist Carol Lee Sanchez.
“She was very, very important for me in my life, (and) Libby has been a great supporter, she lets me stay here and we ride horses,” she added. “I work and we talk.”
This week Macorra was busy working on ceramic pieces in Ritter’s studio for an installation project at a nature reserve, Reserva Ecológica del Pedregal de San Angel (REPSA), that belongs to the University of Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
“It’s a volcanic area,” she said. “There are many, many (extinct) volcanoes within the city. One of them erupted about 2,500 years ago and it created a unique eco-system. That area belongs to the University of Mexico. The university invited several artists to have a project about the reserve. I’m going to work with extinct plants in the reserve. I’m going to make models of those plants and insert them in their habitats were they used to be, and photograph them at night, because they will glow. So, it will be like phantoms or ghosts. The project is called ‘The Memorial for the Absent Species.’”
The exhibit will be hosted in September.
Macorra had just returned to the U.S. after installing a multi-media piece titled “Rain” for the World’s Fair inside the Mexico Pavilion in Milan, Italy. The fair’s theme this year is “Feeding the Planet.”
Her piece is equipped with 32 motors that lift hundreds of strings of pearl-like beads up and then down into water; the piece also has a water fountain. The beads are 80 percent white and 20 percent silver and change color with a soft reflection of colored lights. The strings of beads look like falling rain, but once they wind down into the water they coil together and appear snake-like. The installation took 13 days to erect.
“I wanted to create a lake or pond environment, where water or snakes would be together,” Macorra said. “Rain and snakes are very related in Mexican Mythology. It’s very sensory.”
It is believed if you kill a snake laying in a spring, the spring will dry up.
“In Mexico we still have magical thinking,” she added.
Macorra has shown her work in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, China, Australia and Japan. She was trained as a ceramicist by Japanese instructors.
Her art is also influenced by poetry and poets such as Matsuo Basho, Wang Wei and Octavio Paz.
“I love poetry, it’s like concentrated words and distilled experiences,” Macorra said. “Two of my projects have been influenced by poetry. I love Basho, I’m very interested in haiku because in three sentences they just give you so much of a sensory world. I want to trigger emotions and sensations with just one little phrase.”
She cited Basho’s books that she called “Travel Sketches.”
“He traveled disguised as a monk and I based some of my work on his travel sketches,” she added. “Some of the names of my work have to do with his memories of places.”
She currently working on a personal project called “The 20 Pearls.”
“It’s really inspired by another poet, a Chinese tonged poet, Wang Wei,” she said. “He wrote 20 poems of different places close to his house in the woods. They are really beautiful. I’m working in the fashion of Wang Wei, but in installation and sculpture.”
Macorra is creating 20 different pieces of art or “pearl places” such as a lake, a river and a glacier that have brought fond memories and epitomize important moments in her life.
But, this month Macorra said she is happy to work at a slower pace while visiting the Sedalia area.
“I think when you are a professional artist, you really don’t get to have a break, because things overlap and projects keep going,” she added. “Of course you’re happy that happens, because that is what you’ve been working for. This place I’ve found and nurtured because it’s not something that happened once. It was a relationship that grew.”