Judy Wray is one of those people who can come to heaven and find a way to make it more beautiful.
“Paradise” is Wray’s word for Tepoztlán, a small town in a box canyon just south of Mexico City in the state of Morelos. It is a popular day and weekend destination and has a growing community of foreign residents from several countries.
She and her husband Lazlo Krisch retired and moved there about 15 years ago. They scoured much of Mexico in search of the right place, and as soon as they entered the city they knew they had found it among its craggy peaks and New Age vibe.
Wray has made her mark in Tepoztlán by developing mural projects in the Santísima Trinidad neighborhood where she lives, recruiting her neighbors and even others from Mexico and abroad.
But to understand what she does in Tepoztlán, it is important to understand her history a little.
Wray grew up in a creative household. Her mom encouraged her to get creative with anything around the house, like old camera flashes, and also told her to “think big”. Wray is also part of the idealistic baby boomer / hippie generation.
This generational influence is best seen in its logo for its website and organization. Flying beetle, which was founded to promote creativity among adults and children. The (original) Volkswagen Beetle with fenders was part of a community mural project she organized in New Jersey at an auto repair shop. This particular mural then inspired projects with local schools creating magnets with children’s drawings and painting old hubcaps.
After moving to Mexico, Wray started similar projects here. She found audiences for projects including a set of painted hubcaps that was on display at the Papalote Children’s Museum in Mexico City. But then she found another problem to solve with the art.
Despite being a paradise, life in Tepoztlán is not perfect. Even in his small neighborhood of La Santísima, there have been problems with vandalism and an increase in crime.
Wray’s response to this was murals. As she did in New Jersey, she brought together members of the community and people from her artistic circles to create professionally designed works of art but executed by ordinary people. One of Wray’s favorites is Maya and the last tree designed by Chiapas-based German artist Kiki Suarez as part of a series titled Cuentos en las Calles / Street Stories. Wray also received design donations from Scottish artist Johanna Basford, Chilean artist Beatriz Aurora and Filipino artist Kerby Rosanes.
Wray has managed to get logistical support from cultural centers and even sponsorship from painting company Comex, but a large part of the expense for art projects still comes out of his own pocket. She jokes about it, saying that if she was still in New Jersey it would be money she would lose playing in Atlantic City.
One of these expenses even includes paying a few people to help him, selected from those who are marginalized from Tepozotlán society for some reason. Another takes advantage of “cheap” (her word) graphic design and printing services in Mexico to create large tarpaulin versions of the murals, allowing her to display the reproductions in other communities in a format reasonably faithful to the original.
His murals are among the many that exist today in Tepoztlán, but they are special because the community is involved in their creation. They have had the effect of deterring graffiti and petty crime because people are more proud of where they live.
Another advantage of La Santísimas, according to Wray, is that it is paved with cobblestones. It makes people drive slowly and enjoy the work.
About two years ago, Wray found a new way to be creative. She rents her living space in a resort owned by a traditional Mexican family. One is a healer, always got people in the yard waiting to be seen. She decided to take the opportunity by asking patients to color in line drawings made by Johanna Basford.
The results were so good that she had the designs transferred to ceramic tiles for placement at school bus stops and other places where students often hang out. The tiles were manufactured by UniqueTiles Ltd. UK ; she tried to find someone in Mexico to do so but was unsuccessful.
Today, Wray’s main assistant is Sara Palacios, from Tepoztlán. She began working for Wray out of necessity, but over the past few years the two have formed a close friendship, despite differences in age, nationality and language.
“Sara understands my heart,” Wray said.
Despite his advanced age, Wray has no plans to slow down. “At 75, I’m at the end of my life, but I’m having a blast,” she says.
To see much of Judy Wray’s work, visit her Flying beetle website.
Leigh Themadatter arrived in Mexico 18 years ago and fell in love with the land and the culture especially its crafts and art. She is the author of Mexican cardboard: paper, paste and fiesta (Schiffer 2019). His culture section appears regularly on Mexico Daily News.