Dobles Vidas: Collectors Up Close

Nelson A. Rockefeller

The most significant American collector was Vice President of the United States and Governor of New York, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (1908-1979). Like his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who collected American folk art and was a founder of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he became an influential art collector. With his first visit to Mexico in 1933, Rockefeller began what became a lifelong devotion to Latin American culture and Mexican folk art. Much of his collecting took place in bustling markets where he interacted directly with local artists. He developed friendships with many artists, including Teodora Blanco.

Rockefeller played a critical role in the reception of Mexican folk art outside of its native country. After being named the President of the Museum of Modern Art in 1939, Rockefeller organized a major exhibition on Mexican art. He sent artist Roberto Montenegro to travel throughout Mexico in order to collect old and new folk art. The show, 20 Centuries of Mexican Art, was the largest survey of Mexican indigenous art ever exhibited outside of Mexico. In 1985, his daughter Ann Rockefeller Roberts donated his extensive collection to the San Antonio Museum of Art and The Mexican Museum in San Francisco. Many of the works in this exhibition are from his collection.

Adriana and Thomas Williams

Adriana Williams was born in New York City and is the granddaughter of former Mexican President, Plutarco Elias Calles (1924-1928). She received a degree from Wesley College in 1955 and has written several biographies on the Mexican painter, illustrator, and art historian Miguel Covarrubias.

Rex May

Rex May studied theatre set design in Texas before moving to San Francisco in the early 1950s. He opened the legendary Christmas store on Sacramento Street with his partner, Charles Little. May often traveled throughout Mexico collecting folk art, acquiring an extensive collection. May is also known for designing the 49 Mile Drive sign that is still used today to highlight the scenic routes around San Francisco. After May’s death in 1993, Little donated his collection to the Mexican Museum.

Paul S. Sherrill

San Francisco architect Paul Sherrill was a member of The Mexican Museum from its inception in 1975. During his lifetime, he donated an assortment of Mexican colonial and folk art, largely consisting of Day of the Dead pieces and nativity scenes. Sherrill’s sister, Mary Baxter, donated the rest of his collection after his death in 2000.

Other Collectors

Other collectors whose gifts to The Mexican Museum’s folk art collection can be seen here are: Rosemary Davidson, Ruth and John Denton, Jim Duggins and John Smiddy, the Mexican Government, Wanda Nichols, Caesar Perales, Alvin and Phyllis Rutner, Georgia Sales, Mr. and Mrs. Steven H. Spencer, Eloyde Tovey and Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Towle.