Highlight of our Mexican Jaunt
A while ago we spent two months exploring one of our favourite countries – Mexico. We had a few places on our radar prior to setting off. Among them were Las Pozas in San Luis Potosi, Frida Kahlo’s studio in Mexico City and the ruins of Tulum. One of the recurring traits of travel which we enjoy, is the element of surprise that is frequently delivered. In fact, sometimes a destination we have never heard of becomes the most memorable aspect of the whole trip. And that is what happened in Mexico. As impressive as these sights were, it was visiting Casa de los Venados, which became the highlight of our Mexican jaunt. And this was somewhere we hadn’t even previously been aware existed.
Mexican Folk Art Galore
Casa de los Venados is located in the enchanting colonial city of Valladolid in Yucatan, a couple of hours drive from Cancun. The house is the extraordinary home of John and Dorianne Venator who live there with their little dog Mia. In English, its name translates to The House of Deer. So, what makes this house so remarkable? Primarily, it is the incredible collection of Mexican folk art which John started accumulating when he was eighteen years old.
The house is adorned with over three thousand pieces of vibrant and colourful art in many forms. The previous national secretary of tourism has visited the house on four occasions. She consequently proclaimed that “Casa de los Venados has the largest collection of museum quality Mexican folk art in private hands”.
An Architectural Wonder
Casa de los Venados itself has, in fact, won four major architectural awards. It is a stunning combination of contemporary and traditional styles. Architects and architectural students frequently visit to view the house. Indeed, the folk art is a mere frosting on the cake as far as they are concerned.
Even more admirable than the house itself is that the fact that John and Dorianne graciously invite members of the public into their home every day. At 10.00 am daily, complimentary tours are held. The house isn’t a museum, it is their home. The question that begs to be answered is – why do they do it? One of the reasons is that the couple see themselves as custodians of this amazing collection and gain pleasure from sharing their home and its contents. Secondly, they request a minimum donation of a very reasonable 100 pesos or US $5.00 from their guests. The proceeds go to five local charities. These charities provide better healthcare and quality of life for those less fortunate. Consequently, everyone is a winner.
A Fund-Raising Venue
Additionally, the couple frequently loan the house free of charge to local non-profit groups for the purpose of meetings and fund-raising events. Without doubt, it would be the most wonderful venue for a party. The fact that it is used in such a way to raise money for charities again emphasises that many people benefit in a wide variety of ways from the existence of Casa de los Venados.
A Very Special Place
Situated just off the principal plaza of Valladolid, it is immediately apparent upon entering that this home is a very special place. Even in the foyer, there is much to take in. A huge eye-catching ceramic mural depicting life in a Mayan village is on the wall and a variety of striking artefacts are on display.
The spacious courtyard, complete with a large central fountain shipped from Guadalajara is surrounded by a kitchen, dining room and five guest suites for the use of personal friends. Our excellent guide proceeded to tell us about the various individual pieces and the history of the house.
Nine Years of Hard Work
The house had been unlived in for over forty years and was in a state of severe disrepair when John discovered it in 2000. The prospect of bringing it back to a habitable condition was daunting, but John and Dorianne persevered. Indeed, after nearly nine years of work, the renovation was finally complete. The couple were able to start moving in with their vast collection of art, each piece produced by artisans from all over Mexico, and carefully selected.
A Feast for the Eyes
Every room is a revelation and a feast for the eyes. Even the bathrooms are full of captivating artwork. Each of the guest suites are split-level and include an outside space. The swimming pool at the rear of the property is a wonder of contemporary architecture and a dazzling sight under the Mexican sunshine.
The dining room and kitchen are crammed with yet more colorful objects and paintings. Day of the Dead is a consistent feature in Mexican folk art and skeleton images are in abundance. Although the tour took over an hour, it felt as if there wasn’t enough time to absorb it all.
The Legacy of Casa de los Venados
During the course of the tour, we were introduced to John. He came across as an amiable, laidback and modest man. Chatting to us, he told us a little about the charities that he and Dorianne support. He wasn’t at all fazed by the fact that seven strangers were wandering through his home and took time to answer questions as he sat in his chair with Mia at his side. Additionally, John explained that one day the house and art collection will pass to a private foundation which will oversee its operation as a private museum for the benefit of the public.
We feel honoured to have experienced the house and to have met John. It isn’t every day you are given the opportunity to visit such a unique abode. Thanks to the generous and community minded spirit of the hosts, anyone who visits Valladolid can enjoy wonders of Casa de los Venados.