Tracing Down Tablada’s Archive


For the past three years, which correspond roughly to the length of the global pandemic of COVID-19, I have researched the work of the Mexican writer José Juan Tablada (1871-1945). Some of those works include his ekphrastic poems from his early era, his art criticism of already established and up-and-coming artists, and more recently, his chronicles about international trips, including the one to Japan in 1900, with a brief stay in San Francisco, right across from where I currently study and live. Thereby, with the support of the Tinker Foundation and the Center for Latin American Studies, I embarked on the journey to Mexico City in search of Tablada’s archive.

Three weeks before my departure, I contacted José Luis Martínez González, the director of Biblioteca Rubén Bonifaz Nuño, in the Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas at UNAM, where Tablada’s graphic archive is preserved, to notify them of my visit. Martínez González notified me that this library would close its doors on June 30th for an administrative summer break and would resume their activities until July 21st. I immediately changed my plans to depart four days earlier and for this reason, I had the limited time of only three days to visit this archive. From more than 30 materials that I originally intended to consult, I decided to select the most relevant to my current research, those being approximately 12 materials from his 1900 trip.

Prior to this visit, I had seen digitized and printed photographs of some of those materials. However, those photographic reproductions, even mine,1 do not substitute the sensorial experience of seeing them, a few inches away, and touching them carefully through a protective barrier. Right from the start, I noticed the true color palette of the watercolors that many cameras or scanners do not accurately replicate. I also paid attention to the quality and technique of the brushwork. For example, in the Japanese tea garden (fig. 1), the trees are made up of different layers and shades of green paint. These layers obviously give volume to the figures, but most importantly, they hint at Tablada’s painting process. Each shade of green does not bleed with the other, suggesting that Tablada let them dry before applying another one or that he used a higher concentration of color and not much water.

Jair Jáuregui Torres
Publication date: 
November 1, 2023
Publication type: 
Student Research