Dolores Olmedo made her fortunes through importing tobacco into Mexico City, or so I was told when we recently visited her eponymous museum in the southern neighborhood of Xochimilco. She also married an American publisher, Mr. Phillips, who was very wealthy, and had four children. The Olmedo Museum was one of the prettiest places we toured. You enter through a set of heavy carved wood doors into a quiet, shaded courtyard that seems like an oasis from the noise, fumes and parade of people just outside the stone walls.
The grounds are massive. There are a series of small stone buildings surrounded by lush green lawns, tropical succulents and towering trees. To make the sight seem more magical, there is both a family of Indian peacocks strutting on one side of the property flaunting their iridescent plumage and six Xoloitzcuintli — Mexican hairless dogs. These pups were so sweet, and we were told they are vegetarian. (And were once delicacies to the Aztecs.) There are also ducks, geese and a gaggle of caretakers running around the grounds taking care of all the animals.
Now that we’ve got all the good out of the way — let me cut to the chase. It is alleged Dolores, or Lola as her friends called her, was one of Diego’s many side pieces. So, of course, in true telenovela fashion, she and Frida hated each other. At age 94, Dolores was still telling the press how inconsequential Frida’s work was in comparison to her husband’s. (A matter of opinion, and one I do not share.)
Putting the gossip aside, what we do know is that Diego entrusted both his collection of works and Frida’s AND the Casa Azul in Lola’s care when he died of cancer in 1957. What we also know is that the Casa Azul, where Frida was born in 1907 and lived until her death in 1954, was in financial and literal ruins until Lola died in 2002. Afterward, others got involved and turned the Casa Azul into the great museum it is today. To her credit, Lola left her home, art and money to also become a museum, featuring the largest collection of Diego and Frida’s work.
As a super Frida fan, it pleased me that her collection is currently on loan and not at good old Lola’s house. But Diego’s work was there, and darn it if that scoundrel didn’t know how to paint. The collection is impressive. I prefer his murals, but seeing his smaller works showcased how he grew and developed as an artist with time. Also, there are other artists on display who studied under Diego. Finally, there was a collection of Mexican folk art by state that I absolutely loved. It was worth the one-hour cab ride from Coyoacan alone.
Mexico City travel tip of the day: if you visit, make the time to go see the Olmedo Museum. Xochimilco is also home to the ancient canal system and floating gardens.