The Best Shop to Find Vintage Mexican Treasures in Arizona

Earlier this year, I visited the magical city of Tucson, Arizona, which also happens to be about an hour drive to the Mexico-border town of Nogales, Sonora.


As a Mexican-American from Texas, every time I visit Tucson, I get giddy thinking about this magical place filled with old world Mexican decor, delicious Sonoran cuisine, and picturesque saguaros.

I love it so much, I often dream of packing my bags and running away to the Southwest. 


But if I did this, I wouldn’t have a husband anymore.


So instead, I’ve opted for the next best thing and found a way to bring Tucson back to New York City.


Thanks to a quick Google search during my travels, I discovered an antique Mexican shop––“Arte de la Vida”––which translates to “The Art of Life.”

shop glassware

I must admit, at first I was skeptical, since many of these “antique shops” can be a hit or miss. 


But to my surprise, I discovered just what I was looking for–––old world Mexican treasures from different regions of the country.I had scored the jackpot!

Even better, I also met two new amigos––shop owners Kevin and James.

Thanks to them, I was able to engage in rich conversations regarding our love for Mexican antiques.


Kevin and James, who have been Mexican folk art collectors for the past 15 years, opened their shop in 2012 and have managed to fill three large rooms with a collection of vintage treasures from artists like Heron Martinez, Candelario Medrano, Teadora Blanco, Alfonso Castillo, Dolores Porras, Josefina Aguilar, and the list goes on.


As we browsed their shop, my mom and I couldn’t stop calling each other’s names and saying “You have to see this!”


Arte de la Vida’s collection is extensive, and I’d be remiss, not to share it with this community.

shop new arrivals
Even better, it’s obvious that Kevin and James aren’t just selling antiques, they have studied the history of these pieces, their significance, and value the artists behind them.When we browsed the shop, we constantly asked questions, and they were more than happy to provide answers or do some digging when necessary.

La Virgen de Guadalupe Retablo

I often get asked, why I love Mexican antiques so much.


As a kid, I grew up in a very Mexican-Catholic home, filled with artesanía, religious artifacts, and dozens of retablos.


In fact, my siblings and I often made jokes that we’d never be allowed that to throw parties at home, because Jesus was always watching.


When I was younger, I must admit, I thought my mom’s collection was a bit obsessive and I didn’t really love the idea of religious saints staring back at me in the middle of the night.


But now that I’m older, I’m mysteriously turning into my mom, and creating my own collection.

Sometimes I even ask–––”Mom can I have your Virgen de Guadalupe retablo when you die?”


She scoffs and says, “Luisa, that’s terrible!”


I know it’s a horrible thing to ask, but I also don’t want one of my siblings claiming her before me.


All jokes aside, when I walked into Arte de la Vida and found a gorgeous Virgen de Guadalupe retablo, I knew I had to purchase her for myself.

Finally, my very own, Virgen de Guadalupe retablo––morenita and radiant, this gorgeous piece dates back to the late 1800s. 


She was originally hung in a Mexican home and nailed to the wall (hence the hole at the top).


Arte de la Vida received her thanks to a collector in Tucson who was downsizing and they were happy to sell her to me, knowing she’d have a good home.

Modesta Fernandez Mata

While I continued to browse the shop, I also discovered a new Mexican artist (who I wasn’t familiar with), but whose pieces spoke to me––a woman dressed in a traditional Tehuana veil and a farmer holding a stalk of corn.


I noticed the hefty price tags and asked Kevin–– “Why are these pieces so expensive? They are so beautiful!”


Kevin excitedly replied “These pieces were made by Modesta Fernandez Mata from Metepec. 


Frida and Diego had pieces made by her in their kitchen and other parts of their home.”Immediately, my eyes lit up. 


I had to have them––even if they were a hefty price tag!

As a journalist, I was geeking out and dying to know if Modesta had family who was still alive and who continued the family tradition. 


I also wanted to know what inspired Modesta to make these pieces and why Diego and Frida were such fans of her work. 


Though Kevin couldn’t answer all of my questions, he provided me with the information I needed to start my journey to find her relatives.

Stay In Touch with Arte de La Vida

Today, I am proud to house these antique pieces at the Mexico In My Pocket shop, where our customers can enjoy them as much as we do.


But I am even happier to have connected with Kevin and James, two lovely people, who love their dogs (as much as I do) and who have a very genuine demeanor, which made browsing the shop an even more pleasant experience.


If you ask them questions, they are more than happy to answer––a true sign that they love what they do and that they are passionate about sharing Tucson’s Mexican history, treasures, and culture with the world.


In addition to antiques, Kevin and James also feature more contemporary Mexican artists and sell everything from pottery, folk art, textiles, to vintage Mexican glass.We hope you’ll visit them or connect with them via Instagram!


Thank you for a lovely experience, Arte de la Vida!



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About the Author

LUISA NAVARRO

Mexican-American journalist, former national news producer, and graduate of Boston College and Columbia University School of Journalism. Her mission is to shed more light on the beauty and traditions of Mexican culture. This website is dedicated to her grandmothers, Tita Susana and Tita Lupita, who taught her to be proud of her heritage and to always remember where her ancestors came from.

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