Edward James' metaphysical dreamscape
What would you do with all the money in the world? For Edward James it was not a rhetorical question.
Born in 1907, heir to a large railroad fortune, Edward James was well known as a bon vivant, a patron of modern art, close friend to Salvador Dalí, immortalized by René Magritte. He owned the largest collection of modern art at the time, many pieces of which can today be seen at the Tate Modern, MoMA etc. His social circle included people like Sigmund Freud, Aldous Huxley, and Pablo Picasso. After a messy divorce, he spent some time in Taos New Mexico (where he met among others Frida Kahlo), as well as California and Mexico. He traveled all over the world and had houses in several countries, but eventually fell in love with the Huasteca Potosina region where he bought more than 80 acres of land which included his own waterfall and natural pools (translation for 'Las Pozas').
With the help of builders and craftsmen he started building his own Garden of Eden nestled above the town of Xilitla. He had a huge fascination with exotic plants and animals, and after a large die off of his prized orchids during one freakishly cold winter, he longed for something more permanent yet alive. Inspired by surrealists like M.C. Escher, an ecclectic selection of architectural elements from all over the world, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, he incorporated cathedrals of arches and pillars without walls, with buttresses and floral elements in the middle of a jungly rainforest. The now empty cages held large snakes, birds, cats, and monkeys.
He employed up to a hundred workers for various tasks such as fabricating imagined structures but also to fulfill more unusual chores such as posing naked in the form of a living statue or to carry him around on days he didn't feel like walking. The artwork of those craftsmen and woodworkers that was used to form the concrete structures are still shown in surrealist exhibits. Known as the eccentric 'gringo loco', despite his British nationality, he frequently changed his mind, making the building of the garden a neverending endeavor.
Today it is a UNESCO heritage site and much more regulated since Covid, with only 400 tickets sold per day for a mandatory guided tour. Before 2001 the garden was still functioning as a hostel known for rambunctious psycedelic experimentation and parties.
Just imagine the experience of roaming the garden at night listening to the sounds of the jungle.
There are many fascinating documentaries about Edward James' life and surrealist films such as Dune and The Holy Mountain by Alexandro Jodorowsky to explore. We will leave you with some more visual impressions of this romantically overgrown dreamscape. James himself did not like the idea of fixing what fell into disrepair, and so his garden remains a living, breathing Gesamtkunstwerk, that has become intertwined with the jungle.