Chacala, Champion of the Arts

Emilia Robinson and Arturo Padilla are the dynamic-duo of Chacala (Nayarit), the enchanting beach resort about an hour north of Vallarta. Owners of the delightful, surf-facing Chac Mool Café, Emilia and Arturo have devoted themselves to redefining this erstwhile fishing village into a world-class art-nest and cultural hub.

Their efforts have spawned a season-long arts program with seminars, workshops, organized events, galleries and many resident artists, who moved to Chacala to be inspired by the plethora of tropical richness, the pure light, the joy and sheer pleasure of the easy-going lifestyle.

Close inspection of the nooks and crannies of the town will reveal pockets of creative civility built into clearings of the forest, where masters work their artistic magic. Arturo drives me to visit the aerie where Tabasco-emigré Miguel Perez has set up a studio for making art-prints from his own designs on woodcuts. Derived from nature, his themes are insects, water, birds, trees; whatever lends itself to becoming a finely etched image in black&white (with some sepia), stunningly detailed and assertive.

HDRtist HDR Rendering –

HDRtist HDR Rendering –

HDRtist HDR Rendering –
HDRtist HDR Rendering –

Perez, now in his fifties, might seem to be working in isolation in his studio, but he is an internationally recognized artist with exhibitions and gallery shows from Mexico to the U.S. to Europe. His current project is a collaboration with ceramicist Froylàn Hernandez in creating a ceramic tree with Maya references, which will be entitled Arbol Sagrado. The tree is slated for installation and exhibition in the Artesano 5.0 of the Museum of Popular Culture in Mexico City.

Along for the ride to see Perez, is Isrrael Medina, a young and passionate 32 year-old who has dedicated his life to painting without having to move outside the region. Born in Compostela he paints in a studio in Las Varas and exhibits in Chacala. He is the future of the artistic life of the area, palpable proof that something vital and exuberant is going on here.

The most spectacular art-venue of the town is the splendid home of art-wizard Jerry Van Eeckhout, chairman of the Chacala Cultural Foundation. His rambling, ochre colored villa is perched on the lip of the cliff overlooking the timeless ocean-views with commodious rooms and spacious verandahs, ideal for al-fresco painting retreats. Which is exactly what his fellow Coloradan painting guru Don Sahli has been invited to conduct inside this space.

Sahli, a well-respected, veteran painter, who has been exhibiting in various American locations, since the tender age of sixteen (in Taos, New Mexico) brings with him a history of success and extensive teaching experience. He claims to be above all a colorist, a branch of modernist painting in which he was schooled by his own guru, the renowned Kiev-native Sergei Bongart who led the young Sahli into the wonderland of color.

He fell in love with Chacala on first contact, for its quality of light and its vast palette of lush colors. His prolific output on the outdoor spaces of this very civilized home bespeaks this profusion in evanescent compositions, dream-like and delicate, somewhat impressionist, somewhat realist, evocative and luminous.

Sahli has a large following among aspiring colorists from the States. Many of them accept the offer to come down to Chacala, for week-long stays in the house, and participate in intensive painterly-immersion, taking classes from the master while creating as many canvasses as possible in the allotted time.

Sahli’s mission, and what he strives to share with his students (in his own words): “When I look at a painting I want it to bring me back to when I was on the scene. I want it to convey the drama and emotion that first captured my attention, the atmosphere and the soul of the place.”

Painting is but a sparkling atoll in the archipelago of Chacala’s cultural activities over which Emilia, Arturo, and indeed Jerry, preside. Their multifaceted program begins every October and runs to June.

Alongside Sahli’s painting retreats and Perez’s printmaking workshops, there are major public events, starting with Alondra Maldonado’s cooking classes in December; The ChacaLit Writers’s residency and literary festival (also in December); Alfredo Muro’s Latin guitar concert, early in January; the colorful ChacalArt residency and art auction with a month of festivities, January 22 to February 3; Tango-dancing workshop and performance in mid-February (one more tango, anyone?); and the three-day musical extravaganza that keeps the town enthralled in its tuneful exuberance March 15-18.

It behooves everyone in the Vallarta area (tourist and resident alike) to take advantage of all, or at least some, of these worthwhile manifestations, for entertainment, for bonding with other like-minded art-lovers, and what the heck, for fun!


For more information:

(521) 327-978-6600

Emilia at







Byron Ayanoglu
Byron Ayanoglu is a writer of many hues. Memoirist, travel columnist, cookbook author, film-scenarist, playwright, restaurant reviewer, novelist. His most recently published novels are A Traveler's Tale and Fresh Blood, which followed Istanbul to Montréal (simultaneously published in a Turkish version); a memoir, Crete on the Half Shell (published in four languages; optioned for film); and a satirical romance Love in the Age of Confusion. Widely traveled, Byron speaks five languages and lives about forty miles north of Montreal.