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Fantasies in form

Wren Wertin

This year the Adventure Series features local adventurers, who will tell about their quests from one end of the planet to another. Organizers Annie Fox and Ebby Pinson have taken inspiration from Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Which is exactly what Stockwell has been doing for the past 45 years. The current Wolcott resident used to live and work in Boston. After taking a trip to the West Coast and traveling throughout Mexico, he had a revelation.

“There wasn’t any demand for any modern architecture in Boston,” he said. “What I saw on that trip was a much more romantic approach to architecture than was happening in Massachusetts. I decided there had to be something else than that. So I moved to San Francisco.”

And, he continued to travel in Mexico. During the past seven years, he estimates he’s logged more than 20,000 miles in his car, driving to and from Mexico. He will be speaking specifically about two projects he discovered: Pozos and Ranchito.

“Both of these projects are more sculptural than architectural,” he explained.

Pozos is located in Xilitla, Huazsteca. Designed by an eccentric British millionaire by the name of Edward James, it occupies 80 acres of space. Every day James would wake up with a new idea, and simply go for it. The result, said Stockwell, is a lot of architectural spaces without function. Nevertheless, he considers it to be a very important sculptural effort.

“Your first impression is it’s just a jungle,” he said. “And then you’re surprised to see these man-made things in the middle of this jungle. They’re all made out of concrete, but they’re very different. It’s a very fanciful piece of art.”

James wanted more than anything to be an artist, and be accepted by artists. He “palled around” with Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock, said Stockwell, but he was never truly accepted.

“He finally realized if he wanted to be an artist, he had to do it by himself,” he said.

And so he did.

El Ranchito is in Atononilco, near San Miguel. Built by another Anglo, American Tim Sullivan, it began as a playground for his children.

“He’s turned what might have been a weekend retreat into a very fanciful piece of sculpture,” said Stockwell. “From the outside looks like an ordinary hacienda, but as you get closer the walls turn into serpents.”

Stockwell feels that even to this day Mexican craftsman have a greater sense, greater feel, for the materials they work with, which adds something personal to the project.

Sullivan is still alive, and has conversed with Stockwell.

“When I asked why he did what he did, he said to me, “A child’s life starts from a seed, and nobody knows where it will go.'”

As for Stockwell, he hasn’t had the opportunity to indulge his every architectural whim, but he has worked on some rather large and exciting projects. He was on the team that designed such Beaver Creek landmarks as Spruce Saddle and the Poste Montane, in addition to several Lake Tahoe resorts. He suspects the 50-year period he was working was probably one of the most varied periods of architecture, from colonial to modern to post-modern and beyond.

He will spend the two-hour event giving an entertaining lecture, showing slides and answering questions.

“Anybody interested in Mexico, architecture, sculpture or preservation should attend,” he said.

And so should dreamers.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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