The Paintings of
By Joseph Johnston
Pedro Miguel Reanda a young woodcarver and painter has a gallery in Santiago Atitlán filled with his highly polished wood carvings of birds and animals, as well as his paintings in a variety of styles. His paintings are generally sparser than those of other painters so he that can paint them faster and sell them more cheaply to tourists. In none of his styles does he paint as well as the other Tz’utuhil artists do, but every so often he creates an unexpected painting in a primitive, less marketable style, that is strangely striking, with odd-looking houses, mountains, or people. These peculiar works seem to capture a spirit that is essentially Mayan—a quality which can elude the other painters' work, despite their wealth of detail and local color. Pedro Miguel Reanda’s woodcarvings are selling so well that he paints less, which reduces the likelihood of him producing his "exceptional" paintings, making them more remarkable. His talent is sporadic and unpredictable, almost an offshoot of his energetic commercial enterprise, but nonetheless authentic and affecting.
Pedro Miguel Reanda Petzey and his wife Mario Ramirez in their home in Santiago Atitlán. On the shelf behind him are the puzzle boxes and toys he makes to sell to tourists. When I took this photograph in 2000, he had stopped doing much painting, and they no longer had the gallery near the dock. A couple of years later, I ran into them sellling the carvings on a street corner near the dock.
Pedro Miguel Reanda Petzey started painting when he was a teenager. Pedro Miguel was lucky for a long time to have a gallery on the street up from the boat dock to the center of town. Having his own gallery has an advantage over being an artist from San Pedro or San Juan who must sell to a gallery owner at a considerably reduced price. Tourists come several times a day up this street looking to but something. Occasionally a gallery owner can sell a painting at several times the going rate, earning enough money in that transaction to live for a month. In Pedro Miguel’s case it has its downside too. Many of his paintings are quickly done to fill his shop with stock ready for sale, and additionally he has become a craftsperson too making polished souvenir woodcarvings of such things as birds and animals, boxes and ashtrays. Pedro Miguel occasionally he produces a painting of exceptional vision—some aspect of the Mayan life which none of the other artists have captured. His best paintings are when he is not trying to paint the larger-than-life-size portraits which are a popular subject of the artists of Santiago Atitlán. Figures in his paintings have an unusual aspect, a Mayan-ness which none of figures of the other artists have. In 1996 Pedro Miguel won a prize for exceptional artist sponsored by the German businessmen in Guatemala.
Around the turn of the century, Pedro Miguel stopped painting in favor of wood carving, a more dependable and lucrative way to make a living.