Mauricio Romano was a teenager when he bought his first piece of art. He loved the painting, but didn’t have any money. The artist let him put it on layaway. Over a matter of months, Mauricio paid it off. Today, many years later, the painting still hangs in his house. “It’s never too early or too late to appreciate art,” he said.
Mauricio was born and raised in Mexico City. His father was both a physician and a metal artisan; his mother a homemaker with amazing culinary skills. The household was full of art and music, between his father’s love of playing classical piano and his mother’s passion for opera. Mauricio grew up making ornaments from copper, and functional metal pieces like snack trays. “Instead of playing with toys, I worked with my dad’s tools,” he said.
During Mauricio’s childhood, his father gave up medicine to work full time on metal. Together they made a functional line of stainless steel pots and pans, and a more artistic line of pieces like fondue trays. Mauricio paid his way through college with his metal work.
Mauricio met his wife, a poet, in the late ‘90s. She was in Mexico City learning Spanish as part of her MFA program. “Of course she totally fell for me,” Mauricio said, laughing. He moved to the US with her. They now live in Oregon City with their two young sons. While Oregon is far from Mexico City, his home life has some similarities to his childhood home. His home is full of art, he listens to the opera music his mother loved, and he uses the cooking skills instilled in him by both his parents.
Sadly, Mauricio lost his father just before he met his wife. But he continues to work with family members. Along with his uncle and cousins, Mauricio has developed and refined the craft of making jewelry and ornaments from dehydrated flowers cast in resin and set in metal. His family cultivates and dehydrates the flowers themselves. They grow some of the flowers in Mexico and some in Oregon, although Oregon air is often too damp for the dehydration process. Mauricio travels between Mexico and Oregon at least twice a year. He casts rustic metals in Mexico for the settings which hold the flowers. People often ask him if this is a common Mexican craft, but he says it’s something special to his family. “Few jewelers work with real flowers,” he said. He likens the difference between his handmade jewelry techniques and those of mainstream American jewelers to the difference between panning for gold and using modern mining equipment.
Certain themes show up repeatedly in his jewelry. “There are two beautiful ladies I work with in my art,” he said, referring to Frida Kahlo and the Lady of Guadelupe. Both are beloved by Mexicans and closely associated with Mexico City: the artist spent most of her life there; the mother of God was first sighted in the city’s Tepeyac Hill in 1531.
“Once you get into Frida,” Mauricio said, “it’s like quicksand. If you move, you go deeper.” Mauricio said that as an icon, she represents strength, pride and freedom. “She’s a force that really invigorates you,” he said. “There’s passion in her art.”
Mauricio shows his work all over the region, but especially enjoys the UAN Street Gallery. He described the participants as “the coolest people in town and the cream of the crop of artists,” and said that Jennifer Kapnek and the rest of the UAN board have created something that inspires people and keeps art flowing in Portland.
What Mauricio finds most gratifying as an artist is when he meets people who truly love his work. He remembers one first Thursday when a woman stood in front of his booth for a long time. “Her eyes were brilliant, sparkling eyes,” he recalled. She said she’d like to have one of his pieces some day, then started walking away “I stopped her,” Mauricio said. “I knew she had only enough money to get home. I gave her a piece. She started crying like a baby. It was like applause for a musician. She gave me a hug. She paid. It was one of the biggest wages I ever had for my art.”
Visit Mauricio’s website at www.mexicofolkart.com
—by Teresa Bergen
Visit Mauricio's Profile Page where you can view more images of his work and read his Artist's Statement.