Brazil – Vérroneau
When Ed and I were exploring Corumba, the Brazilian city that is one of the gateways into the Pantanal (here and here), the city tourist pamphlet led us to the Izulina Xavier Sculpture Museum. We arrived at a fancifully sculpted gate with a view to a front garden bedecked with folkloric sculptures of Saint Francis and attending animals.
We had found the home of Izulina Xavier. But there was no sign indicating it was a museum.
Maybe it was an art school? Outside the gates the sidewalk had been turned into Corumba’s version of the Hollywood walk of fame, with each tile apparently a message or note of thanks from students from all over the world who had taken classes with Ms. Xavier.
A couple even were in German:
We would learn that yes, this was the home of Izulina Xavier, and at one point not long ago it was open to the public. Up to two buses of tourists would arrive each day to take guided tours. And many tourists and locals took art classes with the Maestra, including making those sidewalk tiles that colorfully create a threshold to her estate.
But now everything was quiet around the home and the sculptures we could see from the street. No sign explaining where we were, let alone a plaque with opening hours or any other official explanation.
After exploring the gate for a bit, we wondered whether that glimpse from outside was all we could expect anymore. We were about to leave. But then I said, “Let’s just ring the doorbell. Maybe someone can at least tell us what’s up.” We rang, and then rang again, and then rang again. I suppose that was a bit obnoxious of us, but our curiosity and interest were for once stronger than our reticence.
A woman came to the glass door, looked at us quizzically for a moment, and then came out to the street gate to speak with Ed. She said she was the maid. And that there were no opening hours for the museum. We asked whether it was nonetheless possible to take a tour. Which again, was rather uncharacteristically bold of us. I was thinking of the 18th century English practice of granting travelers tours of grand private country estates, as when the housekeeper of Pemberly proudly shows Elizabeth Bennett and the Gardiners around Pemberly in “Pride and Prejudice”. Never mind that we were now requesting an impromptu tour a private grounds in a small frontier town in Western Brazil in 2016, and are not characters in a Jane Austen novel following the customs of Regency England.
The maid blinked. She would not open up the indoor museum, but she would get the gardener to show us around the back yard sculpture garden. She went back inside and five minutes later returned with the gardener. The gate was opened and we followed him and her through the front garden to a pathway at the right. We were granted entrance into an enchanting world.
A little research would later tell us a bit more about Izulina Xavier. How she came to Corumba when she got married at 19. How she raised a large family (a picture of a big sculptural mural depicting her family can be seen further below) inside the very estate we were now entering. She always loved the sculptural arts and turned to them full time in her 50s when her children were all grown up. She took to concrete as her preferred material. Her proudest achievement is the Christ King of the Pantanal, of which she said: “it has a very great meaning for me, a personal and professional achievement, because it is a very big piece, in which I took nine months to do it, but in the end everything went well and it was very beautiful.” (Thank you, Google Translate)
As we strolled down this pathway featuring colorful sculptures of saints and angels and Pantanal animals to the right, and white murals of country life on the house wall to the left, the gardener told us a little about his mistress. She is now in her nineties and confined to her bed. Up until her late eighties she was still sculpting and running the museum and school, but no more. She doesn’t leave her bedroom anymore. The gardener added, with some bitterness, that her family hardly visits her nowadays.
Finally we entered the back garden:
The maid left us with the gardener and returned inside the house. I supposed that the Maestra’s bedroom is behind that balcony with the half dozen female busts on the railing.
Religious themes dominate a large part of the works in the garden, including The Stations of the Cross and The Last Supper.
There are also sculptures of secular subjects. Rural life, animals, bathers…
Der Onkel Bumba aus Kulumba – Comedian Harmonists
Ok, I’m going to make a silly digression here, because while in Corumba I couldn’t help think of the Comedian Harmonists’ novelty number about Uncle Bumba from Corumba who dances the rumba. Except he really is from Kulumba, according to the song, not Corumba. I was remembering it wrong. Still, it turns out Kulumba is a made up town, there is no such place in actuality. But there is a Corumba. So I’ll just continue to think of Uncle Bumba dancing his rumba in Corumba. It’s such a craze that all the babies and even the High Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) of Kulumba/Corumba dance rumba and only rumba passionately (politics is completely forgotten). Even the sun, stars and moon only dance rumba. Including the ones on Maestra Xavier’s gate, I presume (see above).
Next to the back garden there is a archway past the garden wall to another courtyard, where we found a now unused work station and many pieces in various stages of completion, abandoned now that the sculptress has become too frail to continue.