by Sabrina Lear

Known as a “must see” for art lovers, the early days of historic San José del Cabo’s Art District began in 1999 with the opening of Galeria Dennis Wentworth Porter, who worked out of his Costa Azul studio for several years before finding a charming mid-1900’s building at #20 Obregon. “I wanted a space away from the main tourist area where people could relax and really take time to enjoy the art,” recalls Porter. With an emphasis on creating space for each canvas, the airy gallery echoed a museum quality. Large format oils and jewel-toned pastels showcased Porter’s powerful, impressionistic work of life in the Cape Region and throughout Mexico.

In 1999, after many vacations to Los Cabos, Dana Lieb opened the Pez Gordo Gallery at #19, in part of what once was the 19th century hostel “Romelia,” across from Wentworth Porter. With her background in art and armed with an MFA, Lieb saw the need for a gallery featuring art in all mediums and expressions. The result became a colorful and eclectic collection of work from emerging artists from Mexico and abroad. Later, Pez Gordo would expand, doubling in size and adding a splendid sculpture garden in the rear.

With an MFA from Texas A&M, Kaki Bassi arrived from Texas in the mid 1980s, pioneering the Cabo San Lucas art scene. With her flagship gallery and framxing studio in San Lucas a success, in 1999 a second Galeria de Kaki Bassi opened in San José, behind Plaza Mijares. Well known for her interpretations of Rupestrian art of the Baja Peninsula’s Sierra de San Francisco, Bassi also painted colorful scenes of Mexican life. Also active in promoting Mexican art, her gallery showcased emerging and established artists along with her works in watercolor, acrylic and mixed media.

Frank Arnold Gallery, photo by Sabrina Lear

At #133 Morelos, Blanca Pedrin Torres’ Galeria El Encanto opened its doors next to her Hotel El Encanto in 2000. Pedrin, a San José native, was born just a few doors down the street (the home still stands today). Featuring contemporary art, paintings and sculpture, the gallery also showcased México City-born watercolorist Susana Diaz-Rivera and two La Paz-born artists, Rafael Chávez and Ezra Katz. In 2014, Diaz-Rivera was named “Woman of the Year” by the Latino Art Museum. Chávez would go on to prominence and to organize the La Paz Festival D’Arte, while Katz, a Plein Aire painter, was named 2003’s “Artist to Watch” by Southwest Art Magazine.

By 2000, the “Art District” also featured artists’ studios including the well-known painter and sculptor, Julian Garcia, on Morelos near Comonfort. Later that year, the four established galleries — Wentworth Porter, Pez Gordo, Kaki Bassi and El Encanto — met to organize the first Art Walk. Each was open Thursdays from 6 to 9pm through May, creating a new cultural event for San José. Word spread and the weekly walk’s route grew as more galleries and shops opened including Cynthia Castro’s El Armario at Obregon and Morelos. Later, Julian Garcia’s Arte gallery would debut in the new Plaza Paulina, with Galeria de Ida Victoria, Casa Dahlia, Ivan Guadderama, Patricia Mendoza, Corsica, Frank Arnold and others who followed.

Chris MacClure, Jonn Einerssen and Brent Heighton joined the Los Cabos “art scene” in 1997, beginning with the Golden Cactus Gallery in Cabo San Lucas and later at the Old Town Gallery in San Jose del Cabo, in Wentworth Porter’s former location on Obregon.

Today’s Art Walk was created in 2007 by the Gallery District Association to attract art lovers and tourists to the streets behind the historic church off Plaza Mijares. Compact and easy to walk, it’s a fascinating blend of paintings, sculpture and exquisite crafts from Mexican and foreign artists. Born from those pioneering galleries, San José’s Art Walk is internationally known as the cultural and historical heart of Los Cabos. Park near Morelos, on the “ring road” behind downtown San José. First up is Frank Arnold on Comonfort, which should not be missed. Visiting with Frank, Carmen and Picasso, their “rescue” pup, is an absolute delight. While Thursday’s Art Walk is a must, if you can’t make it then, almost all the galleries and shops are all open Monday to Saturday, from late morning to dusk. Don’t miss it!