Arte de la Vida is a bit off the beaten path.
The colorful store that specializes in vintage Mexican folk art looks like something that belongs on the border, not off of Broadway in a mixed business complex made up of a hairdresser, law office and appointment-only vintage clothing boutique.
Suits owners Kevin Pawlak and James Goodreau just fine.
Arte de la Vida was once a monotone, mini-blinded office. Hard to imagine as you look around. Pawlak and Goodreau have transformed the former gray-and-white-only spot into one with arches and vibrant splashes of color. Pawlak even painted a map of Mexico on one wall, which harkens back to the old tourist shops that would show customers where their merchandise originated.
Though Arte de la Vida is only nearing 2 years old, its beginnings go back 12 years when Pawlak and Goodreau, who were living in Phoenix, went to the Dia de los Muertos Festival at the Mesa Arts Center.
“I got addicted to Mexican folk art,” Pawlak says.
He started collecting, mostly pottery and ceramics, and sold on eBay and at the Tanque Verde Antique Fair before opening Arte.
Arte has, well, just about everything from new milagros that sell three for $1 to vintage pieces, containing real silver, for $5 each. Hanging on a hallway wall are wood-framed crosses decorated with tiny, sculpted clay figures and pieces of serape. Goodreau makes these mixed-media crosses, his way of salvaging damaged serapes.
Arte is known for its vintage pieces, which include lots of Mexican glass, pottery — like burnished clay pots, intricately painted and hand-polished with stone — as well as textiles like huipils, traditional square-cut blouses. Items range from $10 to nearly $1,000.
The case for vintage
Tucson has no shortage of stores where you can find inexpensive Mexican tchotchkes. But it’s worth it to spend more on vintage, Pawlak says.
“You’re getting a piece of history,” he says. “You’re getting something that’s rare… The beauty of Mexican folk art — not true of all but most of it — is almost every piece is unique. It’s not duplicated. Everything is handmade.”