The New York Times
October 20, 1998
From Mexican Soil to Museum Sanctum

          By RICK LYMAN

           SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 16 -- When Nelson A. Rockefeller made
           his final trip to Mexico in 1978, several months before his death, his
          eye was drawn to a small hacienda surrounded by a picket fence along a
          rural road in Oaxaca. Atop each picket was a tall, strangely striking
          figurine made of rough pottery.

          The former Vice President stopped the car, walked to the door and
          discovered the shop of a family of potters. Each statue on the fence
          had been damaged somehow in the making and just perched on the
          fence to help advertise the shop.  They were evocative pieces spanning
          many years, left to bake in the Mexican sun. Rockefeller bought them all.

          "For Nelson Rockefeller, folk art was an entree to the people," said Marion
          Oettinger Jr., senior curator and curator of Latin American art at the San
          Antonio Museum of Art. "When he was on collecting trips to Mexico, he
          would just plunge into the markets. He loved it."

          Those pottery statues are now part of a staggering 2,500-piece collection
          of folk art assembled by Rockefeller that forms the seed of the new
          Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art at the San Antonio

          The center, which is to open on Oct. 24 in a new $11 million wing at the
          museum, will contain not only one of the world's largest Latin American
          folk art collections, but also extensive galleries devoted to pre-Columbian
          art, Spanish colonial pieces and modern and contemporary works by
          Latin artists. In all, the center will present Latin American art spanning
          nearly three millenniums, from 1,000 B.C. to the present.

          Eventually, it is hoped, the center will also contain a library, research
          center, seminar rooms and space for visiting scholars.

          "There are a lot of museums in the United States with significant
          collections of pre-Columbian art," Oettinger said. "Other museums also
          have important folk art collections and pieces by contemporary artists,
          and a handful have Spanish colonial collections. But we will be the only
          one that covers all four elements. We're it."

          Edward J. Sullivan, chairman of the department of fine arts at New York
          University and a specialist in modern and contemporary art from Latin
          America, called the Rockefeller folk art legacy "one of the truly important
          collections." He concurred that the center would set the museum apart
          because of its significant collections in all major areas of Latin American
          art. "Their colonial art is very impressive, on the same level as a place like
          the Denver Museum of Art," he said, adding, "the aggregate of all that
          material really makes it a top place for looking at Latin American art."

          Visitors will enter through the museum and then an orientation area.

          The three-story center was constructed in an L-shape to swing around a
          pair of 200-year-old oak trees. The four exhibition areas spread out from
          a central atrium.

          Each area has its own design motif: the doorways in the pre-Columbian
          section are cut in the shape of a semi-hexagonal Mayan arch; the colonial
          gallery is shaped like a massive barreled vault with Romanesque arches,
          reminiscent of a Spanish church; the folk areas include the burnt terra
          cotta colors found in adobe homes, with doorways crowned by wooden
          lintels; the contemporary collection is visually connected with tall, narrow
          openings crisscrossed with lattice. Viewing Art As an Ambassador

          "Father's interest was always in promoting the interrelationship between
          Mexico and America," said Ann R. Roberts, who chose the San Antonio
          museum as the repository of her father's collection. "So I wanted the gift
          to go to a place where it would work toward furthering that

          Rockefeller's sons, Mark and Nelson Jr., who inherited a South Texas
          ranch where their father once intended to build a house, donated money
          for a network of computers to lead visitors through the center.

          Mexican folk art was only one of many enthusiasms for Rockefeller, a
          lifelong collector of many kinds of art, but it was a substantial one.

          He was a young man in the 1920's when his mother encountered Mexican
          folk art at a craft show in Manhattan. The children's playhouse at the
          Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown, N.Y., is still covered with Mexican tiles
          and folk art motifs as a result, Roberts said.

          Rockefeller first visited Mexico in 1933 and was enraptured by the folk
          pieces he found in rural markets. With the help of friends and advisers,
          particularly the Mexican muralist Miguel Covarrubias, a writer and
          caricaturist for The New Yorker, Rockefeller began amassing a dizzying
          array of pieces that he found in markets and ion subsequent excursions
          into the Mexican hinterland, including an extended tour of Latin America
          in 1937.

          "This was a collection that he lived with," said Oettinger, who wrote the
          text for "Folk Treasures of Mexico," a 1989 book based on Rockefeller's
          collection. "You can see pieces from the collection in some old pictures of
          Rockefeller at his various homes."

          During the 1930's, when Fascism was on the rise in Europe and beginning
          to take root in parts of Latin America, Rockefeller came to believe that the
          only way to combat it was to develop closer links between the peoples of the
          United States and Latin America. The best way to do that, he felt, was through
          an appreciation of each other's culture.

          When he was president of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan he
          compiled an exhibition of about 5,000 pieces of art borrowed from
          Mexican institutions, and established the museum's Inter-American Fund
          to purchase more Latin American pieces for the permanent collection.

          In the 1940's, Rockefeller's interest in Latin American affairs brought him
          into the Roosevelt Administration.

          In 1944, he was named Assistant Secretary of State for American
          Republic Affairs, focusing on trade and diplomatic relations in the
          Western Hemisphere.

          In his travels around Latin America he continued to forage through local
          markets for art.

          As Rockefeller moved from four terms as Governor of New York
          through three unsuccessful presidential campaigns to a career-capping
          two years as Gerald R. Ford's Vice President, his trips to Mexico
          continued. But his interests widened and many of the folk pieces gathered
          in the 30's and 40's were packed away and half forgotten.

          Rockefeller's pre-Columbian collection had already gone to the
          Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it became part of the Michael
          Rockefeller wing, and most of his contemporary pieces, including those
          by Latin artists, had gone to the Museum of Modern Art. But his folk art
          remained, for the most part, scattered around the Rockefeller residences
          or stored in crates.

          Roberts decided that her father would have wanted this particular
          collection kept together. "It became my way of honoring my father after
          his death," she said. "It was a period in his collecting that I felt very close
          to because it is what I grew up with." Finding a Home With an Ethnic Mix

          So she purchased the entire collection from her father's estate and began
          the task of finding a museum that would become its home.

          "We were looking for a museum that was an art museum, not only a folk
          art museum, so that it would have other areas of collection, a broader
          base," Roberts said. "We were also looking for a museum that was in a
          mixed community, that had a Latino and an Anglo population, that already
          had an interest in folk art so they weren't just kind of making it up, and
          that already had some kind of relationship with its Latin community."
          Honoring the Legacy Of an Aficionado She gave about 500 pieces to the
          Mexican Museum in San Francisco, which is devoted solely to folk art
          and was too small to take all 3,000 pieces.

          The rest of the collection went to San Antonio in 1985.

          Oettinger, who began his career as an anthropologist interested in rural
          Mexico, came to the museum a year later and assembled a large
          exhibition, "Mexico: Splendors of 30 Centuries," that was a smashing
          success in San Antonio and eventually toured the nation. That show,
          combined with the experience of writing the book about the Rockefeller
          folk collection, led him and other officials at the museum to expand their
          Latin American collection.

          The museum, along the San Antonio River north of downtown and about
          a mile from the center of tourist activity along the Riverwalk, had opened
          in 1981 in the abandoned Lone Star brewery. The sprawling complex had
          space for a new wing.

          In 1994, voters in San Antonio approved a $1 million "quality of life"
          bond issue to spur the project's capital campaign, originally set at $10
          million. The next year the Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Okla., offered a
          $1 million challenge grant contingent on the museum's raising another $8
          million by mid-1995. That goal was eventually exceeded by $1 million,
          bringing the budget for the construction, endowment and installation of the
          center to $11 million.

          That left only the task of choosing a name.

          "It seemed appropriate to honor Rockefeller, both because of his folk art
          collection and because of the family's support for the museum and the
          center," Oettinger said.

          Roberts said she and her stepbrothers also knew that placing her father's
          name on the wing would raise its profile.

          "It was a question both of the museum's generosity, a recognition of my
          father's love for Latin America and his work there, and a gift that might
          bring more awareness of the museum," she said. "In a sense, his name on
          the center endorses it."