Casa de la Torre
Cuernavaca, Morelos

Everything was left exactly in its appointed place, as he wished.

Everything was and is, visually perfect.

Touring the Museo Robert Brady is a private glimpse into Robert Brady's colorful life at Casa de la Torre in Cuernavaca from 1961 to 1986, and reminds all who enter that color is visceral, that objects from seemingly disparate origins provoke the senses, and that in this exceptional home-now-museum, life is art.

ABOVE: The simple pots remain perfectly positioned and planted as the owner intended along the home's entry balustrade. The contrast of the green plantings against the terra cotta wall and brilliant use of local building materials are but a preview to Brady's inspiring interiors.

From his first moment of consciousness, I can only imagine that Robert Brady must have had a sense that these could not be his parents and that fate had mistakenly dropped him in Iowa. These feelings surely intensified as Brady discovered his sexual preference for men. The only thing that the gods did get right was that he was born into considerable wealth.

Brady showed an artistic flair from an early age and pursued studies at the Chicago Art Institute, Temple University (Philadelphia) and the Barnes Foundation (Merion, Pennsylvania) before inevitably traveling to Europe, as every aspiring artist should. After making a palatial home in Venice (quite seriously, in the former palace of Filippo de Pisis), fate of the right kind stepped in. Brady discovered a neighbor, best friend, and mentor in the fabulously flamboyant Peggy Guggenheim, who continued to influence the then young artist until his last breath.

LEFT: A Diego Rivera sketch and contemporary sculpture grace a corner. RIGHT: An art-filled bathroom displays framed lithographs beside an elegant santo, contrasted against rustic shutters.

Was it the indigenous culture, the bold use of colors, or an interest in the passionate muralists that first drew Robert Brady to Cuernavaca from Europe in 1959? Whatever his motivation, once in Cuernavaca he was completely smitten with all things Mexican. In 1961 he purchased Casa de la Torre, the former meteorological observatory of the Franciscan seminary, and began renovation on what would become his final home.

The observatory tower dating from the 1600s of course became Brady's studio.

TWO STAIRCASE VIEWS. RIGHT: One view from the tower looks out onto ancient Moorish walls, the view artfully softened by vines. LEFT: Another view on a lower staircase frames a tree defiantly growing from a stone wall. Elegant planters installed on the actual tower enhance the view should someone cast an eye in this direction.

In reinventing Casa de la Torre, Brady's love of art, passion for color, and voracious collecting came into full bloom. In this house one sees that Brady's eye was classically trained and refined in Europe, but his artistic soul was not loosened until Mexico. And loosened it was!

ABOVE: Religious artifacts and paintings are perfectly placed with an artist's sensibility creating drama throughout the house. In every instance, the eye is drawn forward, then up, and finally rests on the details of the esthetic assemblages, each a still life painting in their careful arrangement.

Brady's appetite for collecting knew no bounds and spanned the globe and centuries. Indian silks, oriental rugs, pre-Columbian art, Spanish Colonial paintings, religious saints and crosses, a Byzantine mosaic, Mexican dance masks, a Canadian totem, and indigenous Mexican folk art are but a few of the collection's highlights, which eventually grew to 1,400 notable pieces¹. But it was Brady's style of living with each artful object that leaves an indelible impression on museum visitors. Art is everywhere to be enjoyed!

Brady used a pleasing mix of textiles from every corner of the world throughout Casa de la Torre.
This room devoted to Mexican folk art features dance masks, indigenous pottery, naïve drawings, and comfy pillows made of huipiles (indigenous woven dresses from Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guatemala). The vibrancy of this room makes my heart sing!
LEFT: A stunning example of a ceramic mona consistent with the style of San José de Gracia, Michoacán. CENTER: A very early incarnation of the folk art ceramic pineapple, most likely from Patamban, Michoacán, defines a corner. RIGHT: The ceramic mona, probably created in San José de Gracia, Michoacán, is the centerpiece of a large wooden table laden with more artifacts. The bouquet of flowers gaily protruding from the mona's head was crocheted by Brady's cook².
Valuable pre-Columbian artifacts occupy their appointed place near the beams of a high ceiling. What a joy to see these silent sentinels peering from a corner rather than from glass cases or a locked cabinet. The ceiling beams were further decorated in a traditional painted style, attesting that no detail though 20 feet above, was overlooked.
ABOVE: Four views of the kitchen. Brady designed a practical but simple Mexican country kitchen replete with a playful mix of Talavera tile, hanging cazuelas, decorative miniature pottery, and humble painted furniture. The draped garlic ropes are the perfect finishing detail to an authentic "cocina" (upper left photo).
A sumptuous bedroom, Brady-style. Chests in this room are filled with pillow slip covers made from the elegant fabrics seen above, to be changed as sun faded the displayed textiles in future decades. Attention to detail would be maintained beyond the grave with Brady's help.

Now that Brady had created the perfect home, he lavishly entertained royalty, diplomats and the international jet set during the nine months of each year that he lived in Cuernavaca. Stories of wild parties and antics continue to circulate among Cuernavaca residents to this day. But nothing rivaled Brady's personal obsession with the exotic dancer, Josephine Baker. At Casa de la Torre, he created a special bedroom in her honor and bragged to everyone about her frequent stays. Others who knew Brady revealed that Miss Baker only stayed at Casa Brady one night. Regardless of which version you prefer, his homage to Josephine Baker remains intact for the ages, and is a very interesting aspect of the home.


TOP: A wonderfully kitsch statue of Josephine Baker graces the bedroom named and created in her honor. BOTTOM: The exotic entrance into the "Baker Bathroom" perfectly frames the gilded Buddha in a Moorish niche. The contrast of deep saffron against a rich chocolate-eggplant hue is stunning. Brady left paint samples and detailed recipes for each saturated color.

As a best pal of Peggy Guggenheim, of course there would be art. Important 20th century art. The Brady Collection includes works by Rufino Tamayo, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Miguel Covarrubias, Paul Klee and Francisco Toledo to name but a few.

Visiting Casa de la Torre eighteen years after the owner's death, I am amazed by the completely contemporary yet timeless interiors. The use of fabrics, varied collections and especially the bold use of color are so current, so "now", and serves as a master class on how to display collections in the bold environment that is Mexico.

In speaking with those who had actually met Brady, it was clear that his ego was enormous, he gave new meaning to the word rude, and his eccentric ways defied description. But only an enormous ego could have declared his own home a public museum. Brady's last will further dictated that no detail of the house be changed following the moment of his death.

To understand Brady's legacy, we must return to the personality of greatest influence on his life. Just as his mentor had left the world The Peggy Guggenheim Collection housed in her former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice: Robert Brady gave the world Casa de la Torre, at Calle Netzahualcóyotl Number 4, in the heart of Cuernavaca, Mexico. His final tribute to the "Mistress of Modern Art" was exacted after death. Like Guggenheim, Brady was buried in his garden with his dogs so he could forever inhabit his beloved Casa de la Torre.

Written January 28, 2005 from notes taken in 2003 and 2004.
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO

All photographs by Debra Hall

Much of the information found in this article was shared during the tour given by the extremely knowledgeable docents at Museo Robert Brady.

¹ Descriptions of the actual artifacts in the Brady Collection came in part from, Robert Brady Museum, México Desconocido, #23 Morelos, Spring 2002.

² Living in Mexico, Barbara & René Stoeltie, Taschen, 2004, page 49.

The Museo Robert Brady opened its doors on February 18, 1990.

Calle Netzahualcóyotl Number 4
Cuernavaca, Morelos, México
Open Tuesday - Sunday, 10:00am to 6:00pm
Entrance Fee, $20 pesos

Art patrons in Cuernavaca lobbied for the proposed Guggenheim Museum Mexico to be located in Cuernavaca. But as discussions moved forward, Guadalajara ultimately won out and feasibility studies are currently underway. Read the latest about the Guggenheim Museum Guadalajara via the following link, posted January 13, 2005.