For 15 years this shop has been bringing Mexican art to Tucson | Company

A visit to La Iguana Art Gallery on North Fourth Avenue in Tucson will easily transport you to another place.

There, at 545 N. Fourth Ave., you’ll find textiles and colorful folk art from Oaxaca; suns and mirrors from Tonalá, Jalisco; catrinas, crosses and glassware; clay pots from Mata Ortíz, Chihuahua; and talavera pottery from Guanajuato.

Since opening their doors 15 years ago, on May 25, 2007, husband and wife Imelda and Mario Jiménez have seen it all.

“We didn’t sell more than two pairs of earrings that day,” recalls Imelda Jiménez.

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Since then, they have managed to overcome a lot, including the economic difficulties caused by COVID-19. Rather than having to close for good, as many stores did, the couple has come out of the pandemic with plans to open a larger store.

Meanwhile, they travel back and forth from the United States to Mexico together, visiting artisans and artists in several states south of the border, selling their wares at La Iguana and art fairs throughout Arizona.

The ‘curiouseros’ of Nogales

Mario Jiménez says he inherited the job of “curiousero” (the curious one) from his family.

“All this I learned from my relatives, from my uncles; this is in my blood,” he says.

Mario Jiménez says his father and uncles were born salesmen. They had very popular shops and liquor stores in Nogales, Sonora, such as the famous Mickey Mouse, where they sold Mexican crafts and wines, American perfumes and clothing from popular brands such as Levi’s jeans.

Imelda Jiménez explains that the shops were known as curious and the owners as ‘curiouseros’, ‘because these are supposedly ‘curiosities’ for Americans.

A decade later, Imelda and Mario met in Monterrey, Nuevo León, when they were studying accounting at university. They married and opened their first store in Nogales, Sonora, focusing on Mexican art.

From Nogales to Tucson

What brought the couple to Tucson stems from encounters at their Nogales store, Mario Jiménez said.

“There were older people who came (from Tucson) and visited me; they liked talking to me,” he said. Among them was a lady who insisted that he come to Fourth Avenue to find a space and set up a shop.

Mario Jiménez listened to the suggestion and one day he came to Tucson with his wife and some dolls to sell to help pay for the trip. The buyer, who also owned an art shop, invited him to sell the dolls at a fair on Fourth Avenue, and he sold almost everything he brought with him. That prompted Jiménez to look for a space of his own.

“In 2007, more or less problems arose in Nogales, such as smuggling and the rest,” says Mario Jiménez. So they closed the shop there and came to Tucson full time.

The story behind the art

There is a story behind each of the pieces sold at La Iguana, and Imelda or Mario are happy to speak up and tell you how each item got there.

Initially they bought the art from wholesalers, but then they started buying the merchandise themselves at better prices.

While Imelda stayed in Nogales to keep an eye on the store and care for her children, Mario made trips into the interior of Mexico.

“I went to places I had never been before. I didn’t know anything about the people,” he says. Over time, he got to know the vast and diverse Mexican culture first hand. He visited artisans in small towns in Michoacán, Puebla, Chihuahua and Jalisco, selecting the merchandise.

“We don’t drive there anymore,” says Mario Jiménez. Now they fly to their destination, choose the products and the same artists mail them to Nogales.

Each work for sale at La Iguana represents not only a geographic area in Mexico, but also an art and a particular style. Each piece takes the time, talent and love of each artist. Everything is handmade, woven or painted by one person.

Among the many items sold in La Iguana, you can find many crosses. The shop offers a wide variety of crosses from Jalisco, Puebla and Oaxaca. Catrinas imported from Capula, Michoacán, are also very popular.

From Oaxaca, they bring Mexican folk art, rugs, table runners, pillowcases, and tablecloths, all embroidered by hand. From Guanajuato they bring talavera (high temperature ceramics). They source blown glass products from Tonalá, Jalisco.

Mario Jiménez says only 15% of his customers are Mexican.

“Most of them are American. I think they appreciate art more; they read more” about Mexican art.

La Iguana is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the store, call 520-882-0222.

Claudia Bungard is a Colombian journalist who worked for La Estrella de Tucson.

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