The Saints of Todos Santos: Artist Erick Ochoa

Erick in front of Yandi Monardo’s “Angeles Protectores”

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

This is the story about the son of a carpenter who goes on to become a teacher and inspire those around him. The one born in Mexico City.

At age 21 Erick Ochoa found himself working in his father’s carpentry shop in Todos Santos, wondering what the heck he was doing there. By his own standards he wasn’t a very good carpenter. Trouble was, he didn’t know if he was good at anything else either. He’d studied engineering and architecture in college, but had dropped out when the courses failed to excite him.  Erick was a young man seeking inspiration and, as Mick Jagger would say, sometimes you find you get what you need.

Which, with respect to Mick, is sometimes exactly what you want. One day a man named Jack Hall walked into the carpentry shop, and couldn’t help but notice that Erick seemed underwhelmed by his current circumstances. He asked Erick if he had any interest in art. As it happened, college had not inspired Erick but the local art museums certainly had. Jack therefore made the introductions and soon enough Erick found himself working for renowned artist and sculptor, Michael Cope, helping Michael and his wife Pat run Galería de Todos Santos. At that point Erick understood a fair bit of English, but spoke relatively little. This was the first of Erick’s skill sets that was to undergo a drastic transformation with the Copes.

The second skill set emerged shortly thereafter, when Michael (sometime in 2000) asked Erick to help him prepare some clay for sculpting. In lieu of payment, Erick asked Michael to teach him how to draw. He had no idea what he was in for. Michael demanded dedication and hard work, and Erick found himself spending hour upon hour sketching and drawing, drawing and sketching. It was a year before he was allowed to move on to colors and oils. Michael wanted Erick to prove – to both himself and Michael – that he truly wanted to learn, and that he had the talent to succeed. Neither of them was disappointed. In the process of finding his path in life, Erick also discovered the incredible power of a mentor and a teacher to change your life. He learned what it meant to have someone invest significant time, energy and talent in you. More than just another skill set, the Copes had helped him discover passion and purpose. This was something he wanted to pass on to others.

Erick and his painting, “Icono del tiempo”

Like many families, the Ochoas like to get together around the dinner table and solve the problems of the world. Just as Erick was contemplating how he might turn some of that talk into action, Donna Viglione came knocking on his door. Donna was the president of the Palapa Society, a non-profit whose mandate is to improve the lives of local Todos Santos children. She had built up the Bridge-to-English program (an after-school English-language class for local kids) and wanted to offer art classes in English to kids who excelled in the program. Erick – now fluent in English and an established artist in this artist’s colony town – was a natural choice for the job. His third skill set inspired by the Copes soon emerged: teaching, mentoring, passing it on. It’s been a great success for everyone involved. “We now have up to 20 kids between the ages of 4 and 12 in any given art class, and 8 of those are quite serious. Some of them have real potential, and one has already told me that he wants to be an artist. This is so exciting to me and I’m so happy to have this wonderful opportunity to pass on what Michael taught me.” Erick is perpetuating a great cycle. The Palapa Society now has 8 scholarship students who will graduate from university next year, and – inspired by Erick, Donna and other Palapa Society volunteers – they all want to return to Todos Santos as teachers themselves.

Erick is now the president of the Palapa Society – a job which pays him very well in satisfaction – and spends a great deal of time on the program during the school year, not only teaching but going to the local schools to work with the Palapa Society scholarship kids and their teachers. He only has time to paint two to three hours a day when school is in session. “But in the summertime I paint all day. Everything in Todos Santos inspires me. The days are beautiful, with light so unbelievably crisp and clear. Todos Santos is always a study in contrasts with the desert and ocean. But in the summertime it gets even wilder – we’ll often have a huge thundercloud formation over the mountains, at the same time that we have an incredible sunset over the ocean.” Same carpenter’s son, same home town, a different world entirely. The magic of our pueblo magico revealed.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2011