An East Falls artist adds to the cultural legacy of an ancient Mexican city.
You probably haven’t heard of Zacatlan, a small town in the central highlands of Mexico, but many residents there have heard about East Falls, thanks to the work of mosaic artist Trish Metzner of Indian Queen Lane.
For two years, Metzner has been working with a team of Mexican artists and more than 100 volunteers to complete a 300-foot mural on the wall of Zacatlan’s oldest cemetery.
The town, which dates back to the 16th century, was named a “magic town” (pueblo magico) a few years ago by the Mexican government for its historical and cultural significance.
Metzner and her team have been adding to that “magic” legacy – creating a cultural touchstone that commemorates the 300-year anniversary of the town being known as Zacatlan De Las Manzanas (Zacatlan of the apples).
The mural is an homage to the 58 apple-producing communities in the Puebla region, the farmers and their agricultural techniques, places of historical interest, and pre- and post-Columbian cultural themes.
The 12 panels making up the mural are an addition to a previous mural created by a team led by Isaiah Zagar, of Philadelphia’s famous Magic Gardens. In fact, Metzner was first invited to Mexico in 2014 by Zagar to help with his mural commission.
Two months later, she was invited back alone because the people were interested in learning her personal mosaic techniques and creating the commemorative mural.
She began by partnering with Mary Carmen Olvera, a granddaughter of the founder of Zacatlan’s watch factory, who contributed to the mural concept and helped gather the community of artists, artisans and residents of the town to bring it to life. “We have great artists, painters and craftsmen in Zacatlan, with the help of Trish can do amazing things,” she said.
Metzner then trained and established a core team of 12 artists who became skilled in her techniques (“and were very talented artists in their own right,” she adds).
One of the artists, Miguel Diaz Guerrero, created a panel featuring a woman carrying a basket of apples. Guerrero is known for artwork which seeks to preserve images of traditional life in the Sierra Norte de Puebla region of Mexico.
Metzner and her team are currently working on the final phase of the mural, creating a section called “Eternal Life” to “honor the families buried in the beautiful cemetery.” There are 12 scenes from the Bible depicted in this last phase of the mural. They anticipate completing it in about three months.
The finished work will provide a glittering, colorful backdrop to Zacatlan’s promenade, which features a newly built glass bridge overlooking the 1800-foot deep Goldfinch Gorge and its waterfall.
The mural is the perfect project for Metzner, a self-taught artist and former teacher at the Magic Gardens, who believes in the power of community to create art that encourages individuals to explore their own creative potential while connecting with others and their environment.
Metzner finds the beauty of the mural “incomparable,” especially at night when the lights of the cars flash on glass pieces. “It even makes the lights of the police patrols beautiful.”
As with Metzner’s murals in Philadelphia, the Zacatlan mural is comprised of salvaged and recycled materials, as well as more traditional tiles and stained glass.
It’s those materials above all that inspire Metzner. “I’ve always felt this ripple-effect from mosaic art. It stems from the idea that within many broken and seemingly incomplete pieces, something harmonious awaits. Making mosaics allows me to channel that sense of contemplation and creative possibility. It can transform the everyday spaces we inhabit, whether it’s a public space like a park or a private patio.”
Metzner anticipates dedicating the mural in January 2017, after which she has her sights set on projects closer to home. She’s lived on Indian Queen Lane since December, but has loved the Falls since she was a child. In characteristic fashion, moving here has triggered a desire to “create art with specific meaning and significance to honor all the wonderful things we love about our neighborhood.”
Where does she plan to start? “There are several blank walls around the Falls that I’ve had my eye on.”