Normally I travel a great deal. For research, for pleasure, for the opportunity to meet new people, see new things. Not now. Since traveling is not currently an option, well not a good option anyway, I have taken the opportunity to travel back through my own journeys and to revisit some of the places I’ve been and things that I’ve seen. I’m living vicariously through myself (how meta).
This has actually proven to be surprisingly rewarding. On the road for long periods of time, you don’t really have a chance to reflect on how unique and special some experiences are. Learning a language even as you are communicating within it. Running to catch up with your itinerary as it changes. I travel in rural areas, by bus, colectivo or whatever, so a lot has to be considered at any given time. All of it keeps you on your toes. Looking back allows me to better remember some truly unique experiences, in wonderful places far removed from lockdown in Toronto Grey-December.
One of those unique experiences for me, was the opportunity to meet Toller Cranston in San Miguel de Allende. Visiting his extraordinary house and studio on a perfect day in May.
The Olympic figure skater, and vibrant personality decamped from Toronto’s Cabbagetown and set up a studio for himself in San Miguel de Allende (selling off everything in Canada in order to do so). He then created a home environment that was quite wonderful and singular. Described as a “2 1/2-acre property just steps from Parque Juarez. A tannery in the 17th century, it later became an estate and then a boarding school” he transformed in into a tropicale-rococo palace, with every inch covered in art, decor and general Mexicano-baroque fabulousness.
He definitely liked to collect (in multiples) and brought a more-is-more visual aesthetic into the design of his lived environment. It was educational as well as visually gratifying seeing his collections of a wide range of Mexican craft production. wood carving, textiles, plentiful talavera, (the painted ceramics from Peubla City) were all sumptuously represented. As he said:
“I take an Olympian enthusiasm to whatever I do.”
That, he did.
Self-described as a “painter who skates”, he apparently paid for his sport training through selling his artwork. His paintings combine a Russian folkloric aesthetic with a latin-inflected exuberance. The collections function as a form of visual research as the fantastic Mexican visual culture of profusely decorated gorgeous surfaces are reflected in the Cranston oeuvre.
His art studio was so spacious and amazing, ample enough to host large gatherings in fact (see video). On the day I visited he had so many questions about Toronto people we knew in common that I neglected to take many photos of the studio. A video below gives a good idea of what it was like though.
As Cranston died on Jan. 24 2015 at the age of 65, and the casa subsequently sold, seeing his very unique personal environs (and him in them) was a real privilege.
He is memorialized on the Toller Cranston website:
Athlete, artist, illustrator, author, designer, choreographer, coach, commentator, and star of award-winning television specials and films….A prolific artist, Toller had accomplished over two hundred and fifty solo art shows internationally. He was a member of the Order of Canada and has been memorialized on Canada’s Walk of Fame, in the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, and the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
What a treat it was to have the opportunity to visit with him where he lived and worked. A feast, in fact. An expression of an individual who recreated his lived environs as an externalized, iconographic expression of a very rich internal life!
Some clips of Cranston’s innovative and expressive figure skating:
The casa and Toller Cranston may no longer be there, but San Miguel de Allende perdures. I look forward to returning to discover more about this most gracious and beautiful place. These are some other places in town that I visited:
“Life is short and it is a big beautiful world out there.” (I said that)