Art & adventure

  • Honoré David talks about milagros from Mexico, right, hanging on a wall at her home in South Hadley, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Another piece of Mexican folk art is displayed, center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Milagrito embroidered fisherman's pants from Guatemala are framed below pieces from a Mexican bridal skirt at the home of Honoré David in South Hadley, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A lacquered gourd from Mexico rests on a table from Sicily at the home of Honoré David in South Hadley, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Above, Milagrito embroidered fisherman's pants from Guatemala.

  • A carpet from Turkey serves as a backdrop for a pair of puppets from Indonesia and a carved box and candlestick from Mexico at the home of Honoré David in South Hadley, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A milagros from Mexico hangs on a wall at the home of Honoré David in South Hadley, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A paper cut-out made from the maguey plant hangs on a wall at the home of Honoré David.

  • A picture made from straw pieces that are dyed and glued together hangs on a wall at the home of Honoré David in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Honoré David and Don David at their home in South Hadley. Honoré holds a platter made from a lacquered Mexican gourd. Parts of a bridal skirt from Mexico are framed, top, as are milagrito embroidered fisherman's pants from Guatemala. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Honoré David holds a platter made from a lacquered Mexican gourd at her home in South Hadley, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. At right, milagrito embroidered fisherman's pants from Guatemala are framed, top, are paired with part of an Indian sari. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Work by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada hangs on a wall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • At left, a carved wooden box and a candlestick from Mexico.

  • Puppets from Indonesia rest on a table. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 3/8/2019 11:42:20 AM

As a young woman, Honoré David wanted to attend Smith College but deemed it too far to come home to Mexico for school vacations. Instead, she opted for Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio, followed by the University of Texas at Austin. Decades later, she finds herself living in South Hadley, just a few towns over from the Northampton college she almost went to.

In Texas, David, now 87, earned a masters in Latin American art. “At the time it was not a traditional art history major,” she said, “but I was never out of a job!” She spent thirty-five years as a museum professional.

David, who eventually moved into the area through her husbands work, was born and raised in the Chihuahua town of Parral, where her Finnish father, Gust Salminen, was a metallurgical engineer. Salminen had immigrated to the United States when he was ten, going first to Minnesota and then to California, where his own father was the head carpenter in Yosemite in the 1930s, building bridges and the historic Ahwahnee Hotel for $6 a week. Honoré David’s mother, Lucile Berback, came from North Dakota and was principal of the high school in Silver City, New Mexico, where her parents met and married in 1926. Of French-Canadian heritage, Berback gave David her unusual name, Honoré Jeanne, to honor Joan of Arc. (Grammatically it should be Honorée, but her mother thought English speakers would mangle it, and she was probably right.)

Salminen wanted to go work at the Guggenheim-owned American Smelting and Refining mines near Copper Canyon in northern Mexico, which is how the family landed in Parral, the birthplace of Pancho Villa, living in an American colony near the mine. With servants in the house, Honoré recalled that she never made her bed until she was sent to boarding school in El Paso at age twelve. She had loved the piñatas and posadas celebrations at home, as well as the colorful Tarahumara Indians and their dances, whose function was to chase away devils in the mines where many of them worked. (The Tarahumaras are also famous long-distance runners.)

In 1945 the family moved to Charcas, in the state of San Luis Potosí, where David’s father is buried; her mother’s grave is in San Antonio. David recalled that at Christmastime, because Mexican laws forbade cutting down trees, her father would not cut an evergreen but instead dug it up, roots and all, and replanted it after the holidays.

In San Antonio, Honoré met Don David, originally from St. Louis, a polymer scientist and engineer. They were married in 1952 in Charcas, in a colonial-era church. “The church is a 16th-century one, now listed on tourist trips to the area. Back then, the only way in and out of that town was by railroad,” she says. Don was sent to Korea immediately after they married, and during his two-year absence, Honoré taught school in San Antonio. They have one adopted daughter, Michelle, who lives in Boston.

Don worked for Monsanto for many years, a company which, she notes, helped to found the Department of Polymer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After he retired, Don continued to supervise postdocs in that department. Don is well-known in the Valley as a prize-winning photographer, and Honoré has given much volunteer time to arts organizations. She attributes her passion for art to her childhood: She read V.M. Hillyer’s 1937 work “A Child’s History of Art” when she was six and was hooked for life. In Amherst, she worked for UMass for seventeen years as an adjunct in the art department. She also earned a doctorate in museum education.

There are several important works of Latin American art in the Valley. Honoré mentioned that Dwight and Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, graduates of Amherst and Smith and Charles Lindbergh’s in-laws, were great patrons of Mexican art. The mural by the famous painter Rufino Tamayo which hangs at Smith was commissioned by the college to honor Elizabeth, a major donor, trustee and acting president of Smith in 1939-40 after the resignation of William Neilson. In 2002 Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum hosted a show of the Morrows’ large collection of Mexican folk art pieces, many of which had been donated to the college.

Honoré and Don lived in Amherst for many years, but in 2013, with advancing age (Don is now 88, Honoré is 87) and some physical handicaps, they opted for the Loomis retirement community in South Hadley. They had moved often in the past, but downsizing was painful, especially letting go of Honoré’s cherished art books, family silver and other mementos of their many travels. “We went to fifty-five countries,” Honoré recalled, and, as she was a museum professional herself, always relished professional trips visiting other museums. “Other employees did not like taking these trips — I loved them!”

Their “sunny villa,” as she refers to their two-bedroom townhouse, has a living room with skylights — which they especially like, as there is more room on the walls for Don’s photographs. Don’s photos, in large format and printed on fabric, also hang in the auditorium of the central Loomis community.

The objects which Don and Honoré kept attest to their international lives and travels. Over a small table in the hall hangs a shimmering silk carpet from Turkey with a “tree of life” motif, flanked on the left by two Indonesian hand-puppets; a carved cedar box and candelabrum from a Mexican church stand on the right. On another wall hangs a painting called a milagrito, or “small miracle” — a popular form of Mexican folk art to express gratitude for an answered prayer. Milagritos can be miniature silver arms and legs from people healed of bodily ailments, or small scenes painted on tin, as this one is. They are generally exhibited in the vestibule of a church. The scene of the painting depicts a woman named Teresa who had fallen off a swing and bloodied her head, but, as the text below the painting explains, she prayed to “La Virgen de la Luz” and was restored to health.

When the couple married, friends in Charcas gave them a large, white, shallow bowl painted with delicate flowers as a wedding present. Light as a feather, the piece is a hollowed-out gourd, which, Honoré explained, was “a traditional container since Aztec times, lacquered and painted in locally-ground pigments in traditional designs, usually flowers. These gourds are a traditional craft of Olinalá, in the south-central state of Guerrero. Although the gleam of the lacquer has dulled a bit, I love the delicate, traditional flowers, and the hand-ground mineral paints which differ so much from those strong, in-your-face acrylic colors!”

Aztec nobles reportedly drank their spiced chocolate from lacquerware gourd cups, Honoré added. The Morrows’ collection of Mexican folk art also included lacquered boxes and trays from Guerrero.

Rich lives, special mementos, a long an d happy marriage. Honoré     and Don will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary this coming June.

Nina M. Scott is Professor Emerita of Spanish from the University of Massachusetts Amher st, and a member of Five College Learning in Retirement. Originally from Germany, Scott is profiling a series of foreign-born Valley residents for the Gazette.

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