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Cacti & Cobblestones

I write in a tile-and-adobe casita on a hillside overlooking San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Several stone stairways down, my husband plays with paints in a brick studio perched beside solar panels on the main roof. Cacti swell and bristle on an arid hillside. Music carries up from farms below, tuba, accordion, trumpet, medley of male voices. Roosters crow. Donkeys bray.

A fusillade of fireworks explodes, celebrating the name-day of a Catholic saint.

I went to high school with Nisha Ferguson, née Edelson. She wore a fringe leather jacket, swirling skirts, faded jeans. She was artist, dancer and gymnast, and hidden behind plastic-framed glasses, I admired her confidence and panache.

“I was faking it,” she said. “The whole time.”

Today Nisha and husband Dan Ferguson run DaNisha sculpture, a ceramics studio, and she leads GravityWorks, the circus school she founded, teaching trapeze, hoop, straps and silks. She cooks, sews, creates detailed Victorian dollhouses.

Nisha’s muse bellows at her every moment of every day.

She is still the epitome of cool, minus bold fakery of youth, plus years of experience. I found her on Facebook. I hadn’t seen her for a quarter century, since our Toronto post-secondary days. I lived in the annex, she in an old munitions factory on Hanna Street, a warehouse where residents roller skated or biked in wide hallways and suspended art from thirty-foot ceilings.

In the casa: Sheep-shaped planter. Plinths perched on the roof. Inherited dishes and silverware. A suitcase full of hair. Chubby ceramic face with spectacles staring from outdoor chimney. Painted clouds on kitchen ceiling. Bullhorns over doorways. Cityscape of NYC.  Porcelain doll propped in corner. Gauzy curtains in bright colours. Cool breeze from high plateau.



  1. Donna Bishop Donna Bishop

    You’ve got me wanting a trip to this fabulous, artsy, passionate Mexican paradise that I did not even know I wanted!

  2. Will Will

    I love this post. You have captured the very essence of our experience with your exuberant and articulate words. Thank you.

  3. Lorna Ferguson Lorna Ferguson

    Hey Katie, love this post! Just to fill in some blanks, “the ceramic face of a chubby man wearing spectacles stares up the outdoor chimney” – the man is my father, Dan’s grandfather, Howard Rapson. When he was still alive (but easing into a little Alzheimers) Dan asked him to pose like he was blowing and looking up, then he photographed him from every angle and Dad immediately forgot about it. At Christmas that year Dan presented his Grandpa with the sculpture you see outside on the “Altar” Dan had Fernando build (it’s not a chimney though it looks like one). It was originally designed to fit into one of those huge old satellite dishes that Dad had replaced with a newer one. Dad’s plan was to make the satellite dish into a water fountain, the dish set on the ground, with a hose underneath to spray upwards. When he saw what Dan had created to add to his fountain, he laughed until he cried. He just loved it. Somewhere there is a photo of the “fountain” spraying water out of my father’s mouth. For a while “Grandpa” sat in our garden in Kitchener peeking out from under the hostas, but when we sold our house I gave it back to Dan and now it holds pride of place each year during Day of the Dead, on the shelf in the altar. Last November he wasn’t returned to his place inside but remains forever looking skyward with his definitely cherubic cheeks puffed out as he blows. And that’s the back story on that! I have some great photos of the altar all decked out with flowers and photos and other mementos of our dead relatives. Nisha even has an old “cottage phone” she puts on the altar for calling her grandmother on Day of the Dead. I snuck a call in to my mother on it last year so I know it really works… 🙂

    • Wonderful backstory on this fabulous sculpture, and the altar / chimney, thanks Lorna! It was tough to single out a few details from all the unique, artistic touches around the Rancho – but that face made a big impression. Delighted to know the full story!

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