Artist Patriarch of Puerto Vallarta
The story of Ramiz Barquet has the parallel threads of love, art, spirituality and heritage woven into different patterns, each vying to be dominant in the beautiful tapestry that was his life until his passing at the age of 90 on July 4, 2010, in Puerto Vallarta. The photo on the next page reflects his spirituality, showing one of his interpretations in cast bronze of Saint Francis of Assisi and demonstrating his lifelong fascination with that saint, the order and the city of Assisi. In addition to faith, the up-thrust arms and gaze could be said to show the spirit of energy and optimism demonstrated by Ramiz on a daily basis. It might also be said to show the influence of the important Italian master with whom he served as the last protégé, Augusto Bozzano, a former director of the prestigious Art Academy of Florence and whose version of Saint Francis stands at the back of a courtyard to the left of the entrance to Vallarta's crowned Church of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Artistically, even as a young boy Ramiz Barquet was constantly carving simple figures out of scraps of wood, but it took five years of study in fine arts at a university near Montreal and further studies in Paris and Florence to cultivate that basic talent to the level of having three major exhibitions at the famous Polyforum Siqueiros Museum in Mexico City and installing monumental sculptures throughout Mexico, with eight in Puerto Vallarta alone, and even one in Beirut, Lebanon, reflecting the heritage of his emigrant grandparents and parents.
Yet, he may have never followed this path had he not fallen in love at 19 with a 16-year-old girl named Nelly and shared with his family his interest in becoming engaged and then married to her. His parents reacted by sending him to study in Quebec, and hers expressed their disapproval by sending her to study in Guadalajara. Their parents’ efforts to cool off the relationship proved successful, at least initially, Ramiz and Nelly eventually finding others to marry and raise families with, although both relationships finally ended in divorce. Nonetheless, their youthful romance blossomed again many years later to become a truly classic and enduring love story, something to rival the real life love of the actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, a love also nurtured by the romantic nature of Puerto Vallarta.
After time in Guadalajara, Nelly had moved to Puerto Vallarta, where she and her first husband, Guillermo Wulff, opened the first restaurant on Los Muertos Beach, El Dorado. Wulff was instrumental in talking director John Huston into filming the landmark movie The Night of the Iguana south of Vallarta. This movie and the then adulterous affair between Burton and Taylor avidly covered by the world press during filming started the evolution of Puerto Vallarta from a sleepy village into one of the world’s major tourist destinations.
Shortly after her divorce from Wulff, Nelly flew to visit family for Mother’s Day in Mexico City, where Ramiz was still living near his mother. Coincidentally, they each went to a huge flower market in the San Angel neighborhood to buy floral arrangements for their respective mothers. In this crowded place with displays stacked high, after 27 years of no contact, they literally bumped into each other on turning a corner. They went for a coffee, and soon Ramiz started flying to Vallarta to visit her.
Following a year or so of dating, one night after dining at a restaurant in Punto V’s current location, they ended up across the street, sitting on a bench and watching people walk by, some of whom were very young couples walking lovingly hand in hand. It inspired them to talk “nostalgically” about what might have happened had they actually married as teenagers. Ramiz had been trying to find the courage to propose, and this experience inspired him to soon find the perfect moment. And if she said yes, which she did, he vowed to create a sculpture to capture that “nostalgic” moment they were sharing and to try to eventually install it in a monumental size where they were sitting.
They were married in 1972; the sculpture Nostalgia was installed in 1984; and the couple flourished until his passing in 2010. This sculpture portraying a man and a woman sitting on a bench has become probably the most popular visual symbol of Puerto Vallarta and a monument to a love that has captivated couples of all ages and has served as a tribute to the special romantic quality of Puerto Vallarta.
The Pescador/Fisherman at the end of the northbound bridge over the Cuale River, the Tiburon en Espiral/Shark in Spiral at Los Muertos Beach, the Juglar/Minstrel on Hidalgo Street and San Pasqual (the patron saint of chefs and cooks) on the new Malecon in front of Vitea restaurant are all bronze sculptures by Ramiz Barquet that you may have seen while in downtown Vallarta. More off the beaten track are Un Niño, Un Libro, Un Futuro/A Boy, A Book, A Future in front of Los Mangos Library, La Familia de Cuatro/The Family of Four in front of the government office for housing and family affairs, DIF, and most recently a different interpretation of a family, La Familia/The Family, a sculpture in polymer resins installed this summer at the Centro Universitario de la Costa, our nearby branch of the University of Guadalajara. Another piece in that series is scheduled to be installed soon in the historic center of Vallarta. His interpretation of San Pascual Bailon will eventually be installed in 22 Catholic countries, Peru planned for 2011, with Brazil to follow. Closer to home, three bronzes of musicians have been committed to be mounted in San Sebastian del Oeste, a former silver mining town in the mountains 30 miles east of Vallarta.
All of these beautiful creations preserve Ramiz Barquet’s legacy as a great benefactor and artistic patriarch of Puerto Vallarta and the vicinity. He is dearly missed, but his love and the art it inspired will never be forgotten.
The Legacy Continues
Given the profound bond—both personal and professional—between the late Ramiz Barquet and Galería Pacífico owner Gary Thompson, we couldn’t be more thankful for Gary’s insightful contribution as a guest writer for this issue of Vallarta Lifestyles. Ramiz frequently joined Gary’s weekly sculpture tour along the Malecón, gladly sharing his own personal accounts of his sculptures as well as those created by others. We are truly fortunate that Gary continues offering the tours during winter season, providing everyone the opportunity to appreciate a treasure that can be taken for granted by those of us who live here year round. Visit Galería Pacífico, where he will meet you personally and share information about the weekly tour, not to mention the remaining limited-edition sculptures by Ramiz still available for purchase.
Best Enduring Recognition: That Given to Sculptor Ramiz Barquet
Published Sep 25, 2011
It’s quite a tribute when the governments of two countries — Mexico, the country of his birth, and Lebanon, where his parents were born — honor a man beloved by all who know him. Much of Puerto Vallarta’s monumental public art, including the oft-touched “La Nostalgia” on the Malecon, is Ramiz Barquet’s creation, this town his home since the ‘70s.
The story of how it happened begins some 40 years ago, when the child of one of his friends died in a car accident and Ramiz gave him a sculpture of a crucifix as a sign of condolence. They gradually lost touch, but years later, when Said Assam was the president of the Lebanese cultural center in Mexico City and commissioning a sculpture to represent 100 years of Lebanese migration to Mexico, he naturally thought of Ramiz.
So, he went to see him in his studio, and “The Emigrant” was the result — an exquisitely sculpted man in traditional Lebanese dress that was installed in the garden of the center, a replica sent to Beirut. Today, 300,000 Mexicans of Lebanese origin live in this country, two-thirds of them in Mexico City. And that wonderful piece commissioned nearly three decades ago has taken on a life of its own.
Not only was another replica recently installed in Mexico City, this time on its most important avenue, but the government issued a commemorative stamp depicting it to celebrate 125 years of the Lebanese presence in Mexico. And here in Puerto Vallarta, we can view the first-ever prototype of this internationally recognized piece at Galeria Pacifico.