Benito Juarez Guitar
In the Briscoe Western Art Museum’s third floor Guerra Family Gallery, visitors are drawn to the lavishly embroidered viceroy saddle, the painting of the Port of Acapulco during the height of the Manilla galleon trade, and the sword with a gilded hilt that once belonged to President-General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. With so many artifacts that help illustrate the Spanish/Mexican roots of the West, one that is sometimes overlooked is the guitar that was handcrafted for Mexican President Benito Juarez.
Juarez, who served as Mexico’s twenty-sixth president from 1858 until his death in 1872, was one of the nation’s most beloved leaders. Born to a poor Zapotec family, Juarez did not learn Spanish until after the death of both of his parents, when he was sent to school at age 12. In a true demonstration of ambition, Juarez pursued his education, becoming a lawyer and being appointed a judge in his thirties. He was elected to the presidency when he was forty-eight years old, the first Mexican native to attain the position. At that time, it was customary to present the incoming president with a token of the people’s support. This guitar is the object presented to Juarez and highlights his indigenous heritage and the finest craftsmanship.
Handcrafted by a master luthier, the guitar was designed to integrate the courtly music tradition of Europe and the wealth of resources and culture in the Western Hemisphere. The body was constructed of Brazilian rosewood and the neck of South American mahogany. The headstock is designed to resemble a lyre, tipped with ivory. The most striking feature of the guitar is the mother-of-pearl inlay. The motif of a Mayan woman holding a quetzal bird pays homage to Juarez’s Native heritage and also symbolized Mexican liberty in the 1860s. Overall, this unique piece of art and history is rich in symbolism and a visual gem. Please come see it the next time you visit the Briscoe Western Art Museum.