Toller Cranston, Canadian artist in San Miguel de Allende

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toller cranston, canadian artistCanadian artist Toller Cranston found his Sense of Well-Being in Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende

Toller Cranston passed away suddenly on January 24th, 2015. This is a story I wrote about Toller back in the fall of 2010 when I stayed with him during my first visit to San Miguel de Allende.

by Anne Dimon

‘Everything I want is right here,’ says Toller Cranston, the prolific Canadian artist and figure skating legend. The ‘here’ he is referring to is his two-acre, 15-bedroom, multi-terraced home in the heart of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

This is where he has lived for the last 20 years.

As a guest in this art-inspired, sprawling casa for the last five days, I have experienced first-hand a tiny slice of the artist’s life.

Surrounded by his gardens, his many collections (he is as much a flamboyant collector as he was a skater), his books (mostly art and history), his staff and, often, his friends, he tells me he lives a life that brings him peace, contentment and a pervading sense of a well-being.

I met Toller 30 years ago to the month. My husband, John Dimon, was executive producer on Toller’s cutting-edge, award-winning CBC television special Strawberry Ice. Those were the days when Toller’s name was near synonymous with strawberries, and his Cabbagetown home, where he lived at the time, depicted the artist’s extravagant version of a ‘strawberry world.’

It was back in the 1980s, as a freelance writer for the home décor section of the Toronto Star that I wrote a story on Toller and the strawberry-themed everything that decorated his life.

In his book When Hell Freezes Over (publisher McClelland & Stewart) he writes, ‘I have always subscribed to the maxim: ‘If something is worth doing, it is worth overdoing.” His Strawberry Period is most certainly a perfect example.

These days, his paintings no longer spill with strawberries, but intense color continues to bloom abundantly in all his works and color is sprinkled lavishly throughout his princely and eclectic.

In keeping with his maxim: if it was worth decorating his San Miguel casa, it was certainly worth overdoing it. Walking into some of the rooms of his home is a little like walking into one of his dream life, fantasy paintings.

Works of art (his and those by other artists), hand-painted Mexican bowls and platters, metal sculptures dotted with jewels, hundreds of glass globes and heart shapes hanging from Toller-designed chandeliers – the eye cannot rove too far without being captured by a perfectly presented display of vivid colour, shape, texture.

A ‘sensual overload’ he calls it.

For many, sensual overload it very well might be, but for the artist – his personally-designed environment is a refection of himself.

It is my own taste and nose that chooses these things,’ he says. ‘It is my total creative indulgence.’

It is where he lives, works and entertains. ‘It is all me,’ he says.

With what he calls the ‘colourful noise’ of San Miguel as a backdrop, an average day finds Toller up early working in his spacious studio, then breakfast in a cozy, wildly colourful kitchen where his cook whips up breakfast for him, members of his staff, anyone who happens to be a guest in his home and friends who might drop by.

Then it’s back to work until lunch always served at 2:00 p.m. (the main meal of the day here in San Miguel). Most afternoons he is back in his studio working until an early bed.

One morning during my stay, Toller had already been up for hours working in his studio then to the Tuesday Tiangus (a huge, open market).

When he arrives back in time for breakfast his arms are loaded with cashmere sweaters and jackets (fall mornings and evenings are chilly here in San Miguel)each bought for a tiny fraction of the price one would expect to pay – sweaters for himself, his friends, his staff, their children… He hands me one, specifically chosen in my size and in a colour that I don’t often wear but that the artists thinks will look great on me – turquoise.

Generous is not a word often used to describe Toller. Creative, intellectual, uninhibited, flamboyant, most certainly opinionated – but never generous.

During my stay, however, I saw a side of the artist that enjoys the pleasure of the giving. Beyond the Tiangus purchases, I witnessed other examples of generosity with his time, his talent and his caring for people like life-long friend and fellow Canadian artist Marion Perlet, another exceptional talent living here in San Miguel. (And, also now, sadly, deceased.)

Here in the heart of this 400-year-old Spanish Colonial town, Toller Cranston has found his sense of well-being.

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May he rest in peace.

You may also like to read about another Canadian artist formerly of San Miguel