Gina Hyams Author

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Leigh Hyams Critique Group Exhibition

It’s heartening to see my mother’s legacy live on in her students and friends. A group of them, who met more than 20 years ago at her art classes in San Francisco, recently opened an exhibition at Canessa Park Gallery. It’s up through January 30. Hours are noon to 3:00pm on Wednesdays or by appointment by calling 415-885-5695. Their touching and inspiring group artistic statement follows below.

Six Artists: Eclectic Works

The six artists in this show met by chance more than two decades ago, when each of us signed up for a class led by Leigh Hyams. Those first classes were in the former University of California Berkeley Extension campus in San Francisco, a couple of rambling old Spanish-style buildings in the Western Addition. Some of us began in a drawing class, others in painting or mixed media. We worked side by side in crowded rooms, on paper or canvas taped to the walls or on drawing boards on tables or mounted on easels. Leigh encouraged us to paint big and with abandon, and to stand while painting so we could use our whole body. And she encouraged us to live life adventurously, and we did, joining her painting workshops at Esalen and in Greece and Brazil and Mexico and France when we could.

After a few years of studio classes, we felt ready to work on our own, and Leigh encouraged us to carve out space for our art at home or to rent our own studios. But because we still wanted her inspiration and guidance, we formed a critique group that met with her once a month, to help us keep making art and to keep growing as artists. During this time, we also worked with Leigh and other students of hers on her film Making Marks.

Leigh Hyams teaching at the University of California Berkeley Extension campus in San Francisco

When Leigh moved to Mexico in 2001, we continued to meet without her, for we found that we had absorbed her ideas about painting and her teaching about visual language so well that we could critique one another’s work in her absence. She went on to build a live-in studio in San Miguel de Allende and to paint prolifically for the next decade, with solo shows in San Miguel and Querétero. Whenever Leigh visited San Francisco during those years, she arranged to meet with us when possible, and many of her large following of students visited her in Mexico. Her last expansive series of paintings was of giant flowers in her elegant and buoyant gestural style, reveling in color as always. She died in 2013, and at her memorial in San Francisco, her daughter, Gina, gave Leigh’s paintbrushes away to her former students and friends.

Over the years, our group has continued to follow Leigh’s urging to take chances and to experiment with styles, subjects, and mediums. Styles have ranged from abstract to figurative, and subjects from childhood photographs to landscapes, seascapes, and skyscapes, rabbits and fairytales and death boats, glaciers and rocks, real and imagined dramas, self-portraits and dog portraits, horse portraits and night scenes. Painting and drawing mediums have included acrylic paint and watercolor, encaustic, and wood-burning tools. Some members of the group have ventured into sculpture, in mediums that include fabrics, trash from the city dump, garage-sale finds, broken plastic dinnerware, ruined umbrellas, hunks of marble, leather, and cement.

We try, like our teacher, to make work that is surprising and alive. We sell our work, though we remain amateurs, in the best sense of the word. For we believe that art is important, not just to each of us individually and as a group, but to the culture in general and to the random universe. Like our teacher, we believe that art allows us to live more fully, that creativity is the lifeblood of being human, and that every piece of art we create is a kind of miracle: a new thing in the world made by our own hands, and often one we had no idea we were capable of making.

Artists at the opening (left to right): Heidi Sandvoll, Loretta Wolfe, Carolyn Miller, Jane Baker, Jeanine Briggs, Anne Ming Wong.


For Rent: Casa Duende + Casita Art Studio in San Miguel de Allende

Casa Duende

For reservations, please contact Gina at

Casa Duende Street Entry

Casa Duende is my family’s home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. “Duende” is a Spanish word that loosely translates to mean the transcendent emotional-physical-spiritual state achieved by flamenco dancers and musicians at the peak of artistic expression; it also refers to a fairy or goblin-like creature in Latin American mythology. Casa Duende, with its quirky shapes, vibrant colors, and jungle-like garden is designed to inspire creativity.


The casa grande has richly hued walls, colorful polished cement floors, artful Talavera tile in the kitchen and one and a half bathrooms, whimsical Mexican folk art, and paintings by my late mother, Leigh Hyams. The kitchen is outfitted with plenty of pots and pans, microwave, coffeemaker, blender, juice squeezer, etc. There’s a flat-screen television in the living room with a blue ray/dvd player and basic cable. There are three bedrooms on the second floor: one with a brick dome ceiling and a double bed, another is situated in a tower room with a double bed, and the third has a watery blue floor and two twin beds.


The casita has a sky blue bedroom, bright Talavera tile-filled bathroom, simple kitchen, and light-drenched painting studio. It contains an extensive library of art books.


There’s a brick patio between the buildings and a roof terrace on top of the casita. Both houses have Wi-Fi and access to a washer and dryer. In addition, there’s a small painting-writing studio at the front of the property.


Casa Duende is located in the Colonia Guadalupe neighborhood, a flat ten-minute walk to the Centro or to the Fabrica la Aurora art and design center. The tranquil, mixed Mexican-expat neighborhood boasts Via Organica (an organic market and café), a well-stocked art supply store, and more than a dozen street murals that were painted as part of the new Guadalupe Arts District.


One wakes up to the sounds of church bells, chirping birds, crowing roosters, barking dogs, and often fireworks (exploded in honor of all manner of saints). Please note: this is the soundtrack of Mexico. If you are especially sensitive to noise and these things make you cranky, ours is not the rental for you.


The rent includes housekeeping three times per week by Delia (who you can also hire to bake amazing pastel de tres leches cakes if you like), gardener Faustino two times per week (he sweeps the bougainvillea blossoms off the terrace and keeps the plantings lush), and on-call assistance from our charming, handy, and helpful bilingual property manager, José.


Rental Rates

January through April 15 + December 16 through 31

US $1500 per week

US $5,000 per month

April 16 through December 15

US $1,350 per week

US $4,000 per month



Maximum occupancy: 6

In general, we do not rent the houses separately, but may do so at the last minute if there’s availability.

Non-smoking only.

Not suitable for children due to cement stairs without railing and fragile folk art.

Sorry, no pets.

Little Studio and Laundry Room

Entry Courtyard

Steps to Roof Terrace

Casita Entry

Casita Art Studio

Casita Art Studio windows (the dining table has been moved to the library nook since this photo was snapped)

Casita daybed-couch in the studio area

Casita Kitchen

Casita Dining Nook

Casita Bedroom

Casita Bathroom

Courtyard Sitting Area Between the Casita and Casa Grande

Casa Grande Entry

Casa Grande Living Room

Casa Grande Living Room

Casa Grande Fireplace Mantle

View from Living Room to Dining Room and Kitchen

Casa Grande Dining Room

View from Kitchen to Dining Room

Casa Grande Kitchen

Casa Grande Stairs

Casa Grande Upstairs Bathroom

Casa Grande Bedroom with “Boveda” Brick Dome Ceiling

Casa Grande Bedroom with “Boveda” Brick Dome Ceiling

Casa Grande Tower Bedroom

Casa Grande Tower Bedroom

Casa Grande Bedroom with Blue Floor

Casa Grande Bedroom with Blue Floor

Vintage Mexican Beer Trays in Casa Grande Bedroom with Blue Floor

Roof Terrace

Rear Courtyard Sitting Area

Mural in Colonia Guadalupe (one of a dozen near Casa Duende)

Colonia Guadalupe Spring Parade near Casa Duende

Colonia Guadalupe Spring Parade near Casa Duende

For Casa Duende reservations, please contact Gina at


Artist Flora Bowley’s blog post about her painting retreat at Casa Duende

Flora Bowley and friends collaborating in the Casa Duende studio

Author and artist Kathy “Crafty Chica” Cano-Murillo celebrated a milestone birthday with a group of friends at Casa Duende. Here’s her blog post about their San Miguel de Allende adventure.

Kathy enjoying a pastel de tres leches birthday cake made by Casa Duende housekeeper Delia.

Guest Reviews

Laurie Freedman and family at Casa Duende.
Photo by Jorge Tinajero/Focal74 – Fotograferia de Bodas.

“What a wonderful week at Casa Duende…a destination vacation and family celebration…a gathering with far-flung adult children…exploring San Miguel, time together and time and space for everyone to go their own way. The house property manager, José, met us upon arrival and offered to take us food shopping, which wound up to be a great introductory tour of the city. He indicated where to buy great coffee, where to find the local farmer’s market, the crafts market (most important), and generally how to get around. Once the kids arrived, José delivered extra umbrellas and even came to the rescue when my daughter accidentally set off the alarm system…always with a big smile and enthusiastic interest in our adventures. Housekeeper Delia (Jose’s wife) and I communicated with hand gestures and much laughter. She baked the most delicious, decadent mango birthday cake for our family celebration. We tried most everything suggested in the house manual—a great insider’s guide to the dos and don’ts of visiting San Miguel for the first time.”  –Laurie F.

Laurie Freedman and family at Casa Duende.
Photo by Jorge Tinajero/Focal74 – Fotograferia de Bodas.

“Casa Duende makes a perfect base for exploring San Miguel de Allende, a town we visited for the first time in Feb, 2015. Both the casa grande and casita are beautifully furnished, yet inviting to be used, and we made full use of the casa grande, including the working fireplace (which probably wouldn’t mean much in other months but was very nice in Feb.) I was part of a group of four (two musicians, one dancer and one writer) who did not have any reason to use the studio areas but we all relaxed on sunny days on the terrace and ate lunch in the lush garden.  Everything is well kept by a very friendly staff.  For us, the location was important.  We wanted to be able to walk everywhere, and the only time we needed a taxi was when we wanted to leave town. I highly recommend Casa Duende for anyone who wants to settle into a real neighborhood of locals, with all the color and comfort that implies.” — Betty C.

“This is not just a house, it’s an art museum and inspiring studio all rolled into one. Beautiful, GORGEOUS rooms painted in bright juicy colors, every detail beautiful and whimsical. The casita (art studio) was seriously inspiring, and my daughters and I painted and wrote into the wee hours. The care taking family, Delia and Jose and Faustino, are kind and attentive to one’s every need. They really go above and beyond!! The neighborhood is quiet and close enough to the Jardin (center of town) to easily walk, and yet not in the MIDST of it all. Wonderful natural food grocer/cafe just around the corner (Via Organica). Wonderful fresh hot tortillas down the street. Fish market (we made the best meal from fresh caught fish!) a few blocks down. I can’t wait to return and am going to bring all of my writer and artist buddies with me!” — Susan I.

“We loved our visit to SMA and our choice of lodging – Casa Duende! Gina was great arranging everything, always quick to answer with very helpful information. Jose, the house manager, was there to greet us when we arrived. He was helpful should we need anything throughout our stay. The Casa and Casita are beautiful inside and out. There are large water dispensers so no one got sick from the water. All our needs were met. Great location, too, just a 10 minute walk to El Jardin (the center of town). We had a great time!” — Lisa E.

“First time in San Miguel de Allende and got lucky! First, the area, Colonia Guadalupe is close to everything and exudes charm as well as feeling. The casita and artist’s studio quaint, comfortable, safe, has a fully equipped kitchen and lovely surroundings including a garden and roof deck. It’s a haven from the hustle and bustle of the Centro and a cozy spot to call home. You’ll find the staff to be rays of sunshine with smiles and charm. Writers, artists, those who like privacy will enjoy this precious spot.” — Addison “Buz” O.

“I, along with two friends, recently experienced an little bit of magic when we spent a week at Casa Duende in San Miguel Allende. Just by chance we found this property and it was perfect for our needs not to mention beautiful. It is central located and an easy walk to all of our “must sees” as well as a short taxi ride to those when are feet were rebelling!! Our hostess, and her staff at the casa, had all in order to include little details such as enough hangers for three women!! Concerning activities….just put on walking shoes and go. The area will create your time spent in this magical location. We have reserved Casa Duende for next year!” — Judy

“Case Duende is a quiet jewel of a place. The casa grande and the casita are behind a safe, enclosed gate that separates the two houses and grounds from a peaceful street. Once inside, one passes through a lovely jungle-like garden before reaching the houses. There is a very pleasant and light roof terrace with chaise lounges, a hammock and table and chairs. There are two studio spaces, one in the casita and another small, separate one. I have just spent a month and a half in the casita, and have appreciated the solitude that it affords, as well as an atmosphere that is conducive to creative work. The property is cared for by a lovely family, which consists of a gardener, a housekeeper and a property manager (who is fluent in English). They have all been helpful and friendly, and have been sensitive to any of my needs. Casa Duende is about a ten minute walk to the center of town. It is a flat walk through a family-oriented neighborhood, which is populated enough at all hours for one to feel safe at all times. I would highly recommend this rental. It has been very pleasant staying here, and a pleasure working with the owners, who have made life in Casa Duende very comfortable and inviting.” — C.R.

“Casa Duende is absolutely the most amazing dwelling I have ever been in! As I sit up on the rooftop terrace quietly soaking up the sounds and spirit of this place, I feel so very grateful to have been here. I painted 26 paintings and lots of other art as well. I was up at 5:30am many days for my morning chanting and meditation practice up on the rooftop. The whole town was chanting for me and with me! Church hymns, bell ringers, marching bands, fireworks, dogs singing, roosters crowing, hot air balloons overhead…amazing!” – Paula F.

“The last month in San Miguel was a wonderful experience. The warmth and culture of the city were enhanced by living in your home. It is comfortable, beautiful, and feels good ( karma? feng shui?).  Jose, Delia, and Faustino are terrific (even for those of us who are Spanish-challenged).” –Anne M.

“For me, the experience of being [at Casa Duende] in Leigh’s home and studio – surrounded by her art, her books, her inspiration board, her video, the loving words of her friends and students, her life-force – was grounding, invigorating, inspiring, enriching, self-affirming….and my creative juices (even though I produced very little art there) were sparked.  The message I got loud and clear was ‘Just Do Art!’ Since being home, I have been doing art!  I have also been connecting the dots of some creative projects that have been calling me for a long time. I now see I don’t need to compartmentalize the artist part of me.  I can integrate all my parts and create amazing work in the world.   I have also made a decision to go back to school, and to follow a path of learning that honours the artist in me.”  – Linda G.  

Jeremy Toback & Renee Stahl's Sweet Big World for Little Ones

Yesterday while dithering away the afternoon looking at other people’s friends on Facebook, I stumbled upon a familiar face. Jeremy Toback and I were summer camp counselors together at Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts in the mid-80s. Back in the day, Jeremy had rock star written all over him and I’ve periodically heard updates of his L.A. music industry roller coaster ride from a mutual friend. I was delighted to discover yesterday that he and singer Renee Stahl recently released an utterly sweet, smart, and charming CD for children titled It’s a Big World. Click here to see a video of them singing Night Mantra, a hypnotic lullaby.

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